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“Jailing Defendants Is Very Different Than Fighting Crime”

Sue Lincoln

“We have done the most comprehensive study of Louisiana’s criminal justice system in the history of our state,” Corrections Secretary Jimmy Leblanc said, as the Justice Reinvestment Task Force presented its final report, including 27 recommendations aimed at reducing Louisiana’s “world’s highest” incarceration rate.

“We are recommending substantial reinvestment into programming that reduces recidivism – both in prison and in the community – and services for victims of crimes,” Leblanc declared. “All of the spending that we are recommending in this report is paid for by savings that this package achieves.”

The recommendations include enacting an avenue for parole for those sentenced to life imprisonment – something 48 other states permit. It also urges bundling crimes and their penalties into “classes”, and having a sliding scale of supervision fees parolees and probationers are required to pay..

Governor John Bel Edwards congratulated the group – comprised of lawyers and lawmakers, judges, sheriffs and activists – for their hard work over the past ten months.

“I asked you to be bold; get us out of the mindset that got us to where we are – policy decisions over the last several decades driven by fear,” Edwards said. “You’ve done that, and now we can actually drive policy by hope, balanced with reason.”

Part of the push for reform is being driven by Louisiana’s fiscal problems, since the state spends over $650-million annually on corrections. Leblanc says these proposals take that into account.

“If our task force recommendations are enacted into law, we conservatively estimate a 13% reduction over the next ten years, saving taxpayers over 300-million.”

But, the governor says, it’s not just about saving money. It’s about a much tougher task – changing lives.

“We cannot do this thinking we take that $300-million and we just save it. We have to reinvest it, and that’s going to require a lot of discipline,” Edwards said, drawing applause from the overflow crowd in attendance.

“This is not ‘mission accomplished’,” the governor added. “In many, many ways, the serious, most substantive work is yet to come, as we take these concepts, reduce them to language in legislative instruments.”

House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger agrees.

“Jailing defendants is very different than fighting crime,” Leger reminded his fellow lawmakers. “This is now on the Legislature.”