Last Modified: Saturday, June 25, 2016 11:32 AM
Louisiana is now part of a national movement to reform the federal and state prison and sentencing systems. The state’s effort is being directed by the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which is made up of judges, legislators, law enforcement officials and others.
The goals include reduction of prison populations, revision of sentencing rules and development of programs designed to keep violators from becoming repeat offenders. Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to make those goals a major part of the 2017 session of the Louisiana Legislature.
The prison population issue is especially critical for Louisiana, which has an incarceration rate of 816 per 100,000 people, double the national average. Edwards talked about the dubious distinction at the first meeting of the task force, according to a news report in The Advocate.
“If we had the highest incarceration rate and the lowest crime rates and the lowest recidivism rates, we could probably argue that it was worthwhile. There is no argument to make for what we’re doing in Louisiana today,” Edwards said. The governor made another argument with which the residents of Louisiana will agree.
“You will never convince me that the people of Louisiana are innately more sinister or criminal than elsewhere. So what are we doing?” he said.
The nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trust is partnering with the state in this latest effort. A team of seven attorneys, criminologists and date analysts from Pew will travel to Louisiana every two weeks from Washington, D.C., during the study.
Some progress has already been made, according to Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the state Department of Corrections. He said the state’s incarceration rate has already dipped from its peak in 2012, decreasing by 4,206 offenders. The reduction is attributed to probation and parole efforts, re-entry projects and educational programs.
Edwards talked about the side effects of putting low-level, nonviolent offenders in prison.
“You run a great risk of when they get out of prison, they’re no longer a low-level nonviolent offender because you just made them hang out for a year or two with people who gave them a Ph.D. in criminology,” the governor said.
Some reforms were enacted at the regular session of the Legislature. Edwards signed a bill called “ban the box” that says applicants for unclassified state jobs will no longer have to disclose felony convictions on their employment applications.
Having to check that box on the application form doesn’t give former inmates an even chance to compete for jobs. However, they can still be asked about convictions during job interviews.
The governor also signed the Raise the Age Act that makes it possible for 17-year-olds accused of a crime to not automatically be treated as adults. Edwards called it a down payment on reform and long overdue.
We applaud efforts to reduce the state’s deplorable incarceration rate and the beginning of long-overdue reforms of the prison and sentencing systems. We hope everyone involved will lend their full support to future plans in both areas.