Louisiana business groups take on criminal justice reform

With the Legislature set to take a hard look at sentencing and criminal justice reform next year, state business leaders are meeting next Thursday to discuss how to drive down Louisiana’s prison and jail populations and reduce recidivism.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Greater New Orleans Inc., and the U.S. Chamber Foundation have joined to sponsor the state’s inaugural Criminal Justice Reform Summit.

The half-day event taking place on Nov. 17 will feature two panels—one featuring in-state experts and the other featuring out-of-state criminal justice reform experts—that will explore best practices and the proven solutions other Southern states are using to shrink their pool of incarcerated residents.

Bryan Kelley, executive relations manager of the Texas Prison Entrepreneurship Program, will deliver the keynote address. Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel will moderate one of the panels.

Stephen Waguespack, LABI president and CEO, says business leaders wanted to raise awareness about the issue of incarceration in Louisiana to learn about what’s working in other states and which reform methods can be replicated here.

Louisiana incarcerated 1,380 residents for every 100,000 persons in 2014—the highest of any other state, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Those people are absent from the workforce and often have difficulty finding jobs once released.

“Our workforce challenges in Louisiana have been well-documented and well-chronicled. If you really drill down on those issues, we need to have workers that can read and write, stay off drugs and have good soft skills,” says Waguespack, adding that companies have indicated their need for employees with those four attributes.

Instilling those qualities in people returning from prison can help fill available jobs, grow the state’s workforce and make communities better, Waguespack says, adding that Louisiana incarcerates a high number of people for nonviolent offenses.

The Legislature passed a resolution last year that established the Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a coalition of stakeholders charged with making recommendations to reduce Louisiana’s prison population.

Waguespack says it’s expected the Legislature will take up bills resulting from the task force’s work when it meets next year.

To register for the summit, contact Camille Ivy-O’Donnell at camillei@labi.org or by phone at (817) 944-5091.

See the full agenda.

—Alexandria Burris  

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