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Editorial: State should rethink mandatory sentencing

Last Modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 10:00 AM

A new study suggests Louisiana needs to loosen the reins when it comes to some of its mandatory sentencing laws.

The product of the American Civil Liberties Union? Not hardly.

The report comes from a group of conservative think tanks that suggest tempering some of the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses would allow the state to ensure that more violent criminals remain in prison.

The report, ‘‘Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: An Argument for Reforming Louisiana’s Determinate Sentencing Laws’’ notes that the state’s prison population nearly doubled in a 20-year span from 1992 to 2011. Accordingly, the budget for incarcerating prisoners increased by $315 million in that time period.

Written by the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy, which promotes free markets and limited government, and the Reason Foundation, a research group that embraces libertarian principles, the report reminds that Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate.

The study complains that as a result of the state’s mandatory sentencing laws, ‘‘non-violent offenders who pose little or no threat to society are routinely sentenced to long terms in prison with no opportunity for parole, probation or suspension of sentence.’’

Judges are handcuffed by the mandatory sentencing laws, the report says, noting that many of the sentences are for drug-related and nonviolent crimes.

The study says Louisiana’s laws regarding mandatory sentencing are not working because the number of second and third drug-related offenses easily surpasses the number of first-time offenders incarcerated.

State lawmakers have made some changes to sentencing laws in recent years, the report says, but not enough to reduce Louisiana’s prison population.

The Pelican Institute and the ACLU have joined forces to determine how other states handle sentencings. Those findings will likely be forwarded to state lawmakers.

But as one state representative noted, getting tough on crime and criminals is a near universal plank in every candidate’s platform while no one promises to ‘‘let a bunch of people out of jail.’’

Still, Louisiana’s mandatory sentencing policies are costing the state precious dollars that could be better spent in the realms of education and health care.

  • • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

Posted By: E. King Alexander, Jr., Lake Charles On: 11/26/2013

Title: Excessive sentencing is bad government

Sentencing reform is a legitimate conservative issue that is slow to mature in the legislature because they are term-limited, they all come in on law-and-order platforms, and by the time such experts as Secretary of Department Safety & Corrections Jimmy Leblanc and Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain can get through to them, they're out. Excessive sentencing is bad government in a form we see everywhere: spending other people's money on policy that does not work. To the extent judges' hands are tied, it is a legislative issue, but it is not necessary to wait for legislative action in those cases where the judges do have discretion. Voters should make it clear to judges seeking re-election and judicial candidates that we are not an ignorant and vengeful electorate who want excessive sentencing, that we don't want them to continue to pursue a policy that doesn't work, and that we don't want them to spend our taxpayer money either to aggrandize themselves as vote-worthy hanging judges or to appease the irrational among us. Our population is not so much more badly-behaved than those of other comparable states, yet if Louisiana were to release a third of her prisoners today, she would still have the highest incarceration rate in the world. That is clearly a broken situation, and it has to end. If the fact that it is cruel doesn't reach them, maybe they can begin to understand that it is simply ineffective and therefore bad policy. States cannot print money.

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