Garland Robinette from WWL radio in New Orleans recently read about a man who, arrested for the fourth time on marijuana possession, was given a life sentence in prison. With the cost per prisoner in Louisiana as high as it is, this life sentence could potentially cost millions. Louisiana also has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world, with one in fifty-five residents locked up.
Kevin Kane from the Pelican Institute is a policy analyst advocating for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. On Robinette’s radio program this week, Kane explained that part of the stubbornness of conservative legislators stems from a fear of appearing soft on crime, but “that’s a hurdle you have to get over….Safe streets are essential to living in a civilized society, but so many of these prisoners are nonviolent and don’t pose a threat to society. There are other ways to deal with them.” Kane argued for an increased focus on rehabilitation, which costs less and actually helps offenders come back into the world as productive members of society.
For further guidance, Kane encouraged lawmakers to look to Texas, a proudly “tough on crime” state, which has experienced great success in criminal justice reform. Texas State Representative Jerry Madden appeared on the show to discuss the process surrounding the broad corrections reforms that the state passed in 2007. “We have two types of prisoners, those who you’re scared of and those that you’re mad at…We looked at the people we were mad at and asked ‘can we change what they’re doing to such a degree that we would no longer be mad at them?’” Texas rigorously assessed which programs worked best, and cut the inefficient ones to divert funds to more effective programs. According to Rep. Madden, crime and violent crime rates continue to drop, the recidivism rate has settled at a low number, and the state has saved millions. The only prison beds added in Texas since 2007 have been substance abuse beds. This is exactly what the state of Louisiana needs, says Robinette: to cut spending and make the public safer, while helping to reform offenders.