Criminal justice reforms enacted by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017 have made the state safer by reducing the crime rate and have reduced the state's prison population. That is the view of Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners and their families.
DeRoche, in a guest column in The Advocate, reminds readers that Louisiana's justice reform movement wasn't a liberal effort. Republicans sponsored seven of the 10 measures enacted in 2017.
"Since then, Louisiana has witnessed a 3 percent drop in violent crime, a 20 percent decline in the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses and a nearly 8 percent reduction in the overall prison population," DeRoche said.
Even though the crime rate has fallen, DeRoche said a recent poll the fellowship commissioned found that 60 percent of the public thinks crime is increasing. He said misinformation by politicians hasn't helped.
DeRoche said the good news comes despite "smatterings of Republicans (who) have dusted off their old tough-on-crime messages to score political points." He said those Republicans are "members of my own party — I served as speaker of the House in Michigan as a Republican — but they are misguided."
Although DeRoche didn't name them, two of those Republican critics of the state's criminal justice effort have been Louisiana's state Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
DeRoche said critics are also at odds with President Donald Trump, who signed the FIRST STEP Act that has brought significant, bipartisan reform to the federal system. He added that a poll last year also found that 92 percent of Louisiana voters support the progress being made in their state.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections said the reforms resulted in $17.8 million in savings last year. DeRoche said that is one installment toward the estimated $262 million the reforms are expected to produce. Seventy percent of that will be reinvested in local programs that reduce reoffending and support crime victims.
DeRoche said ordinary Louisianans are enjoying the fruits of justice reforms, even though a few leaders have ignored that reality. He said the approach of the "tired, tough-on-crime" critics is dangerous and shortsighted.
"Smart leaders — of any party — should capitalize on these reforms," DeRoche said. "To go backward would put the state at risk, and people wont stand for it."
We hope the new more conservative Legislature taking office in January will continue the criminal justice reform effort that has been so successful.
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 Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, Jim Beam and Mike Jones.