Traditionally, Louisiana’s Democrats and liberal social justice advocates have pushed for reforms in the state’s criminal justice system, asking for more lenient drug sentences, programs to rehabilitate criminals and softer penalties for nonviolent offenders. Those efforts have always run into stiff headwinds from policymakers who preferred a “tough on crime” approach. This year, a Republican-dominated Legislature signed off by large margins on sweeping changes that will trim prison sentences and expand parole opportunities to offenders in prison. Analysts predict it will reduce the overall population behind bars by 10 percent over a decade, The Advocate reports. While the effort that had the backing of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the actual passage of the changes this year was the result mostly of conservative groups that have taken up the mantle of prison reform and offered their blessing to the GOP members who cast their votes for the reforms.
“For me, having some of the more conservative groups like (the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) and the Family Forum bring a balance to the perspective” was important, said Rep. Barry Ivey, who supported all 10 of the reform bills in the legislative session. “Having their buy-in goes a long way to reassure the public.” During a few tough votes on the House floor, Ivey took to the microphone to remind his Republican colleagues that the measures were backed by the Family Forum, an influential conservative Christian organization that lobbies for traditional family values legislation. Help also came from Right on Crime, a conservative organization, that emerged out of Texas’ experience to help other states tackle similar reforms. Besides Louisiana and Texas, Right on Crime has worked in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, North Carolina and Georgia.