Editorial: State should rethink mandatory sentencing

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.

 

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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.