After decades of locking ’em up on the way to Louisiana’s tops-in-the-nation incarceration rate, a growing bipartisan coalition of state political and business leaders are pushing a criminal justice reform platform to cut prison populations and shift the offenders into alternate forms of punishment and rehabilitation, says the Advocate. Part of the appeal is reducing the cost of locking up felons, projected at about $500 million this fiscal year. But fixing the justice system won’t provide a quick path to solve Louisiana’s deep budget gap, politicians and experts warned during a pair of events Thursday aimed at crafting a coalition for change. Much of the savings should be pumped back into probation services, alternative forms of punishment and services designed to cut down on crime while shrinking the prison population.
“If you do not reinvest the money, this will be a dismal failure,” said Pete Adams, the executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. Adams spoke after a team of researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts presented data on Louisiana’s prison population and sentencing trends. The reform effort seems to be gaining broad backing since the state’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force began work in June. A bipartisan consensus will give “cover” to politicians worried about being portrayed as soft on crime, said one Republican. The reform effort is expected to begin with a series of proposals in the 2017 legislative session, with the initial focus on keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison.