They say politics makes strange bedfellows. So, apparently, does the issue of criminal justice reform.
At a forum in New Orleans today, leaders from conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity, the Pelican Institute and Right on Crime joined with the ACLU to discuss the findings of a new report that calls for cutting the state’s prison population in half by 2025.
The “Blueprint for Smart Justice” report, co-sponsored by the ACLU and the Urban Institute, outlines specific ways the state could reduce the prison admissions, sentences and racial disparities to reduce the prison population some 50% for a savings of more than $822 million.
Key to making it all work would be to reinvest those savings into social services, and job-training and re-entry programs intended to prevent recidivism and incarceration in the first place.
The conversation around criminal justice reform is changing nationwide, as data increasingly suggests that mass incarceration is not keeping America safer. Louisiana is no exception to what’s going on in other states. In 2017, a bipartisan coalition in the Legislature passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that targeted reducing the state’s non-violent prison population by 10%.
Savings from the first year of the program, which was 2018, totaled around $12 million. That money is only now beginning to flow to the five parishes—among them, East Baton Rouge—that will initially pilot re-entry programs, so it’s too soon to measure the long-term effectiveness of the package.
But advocates of criminal justice reform are already pushing to take the issue to the next level, as today’s gathering indicates. Among the steps outlined in the reform are: alternatives to incarceration, shorter sentences, parole reform, greater oversight of local prosecutors and earned time/credit reform.
John Kay, Louisiana director of Americans for Prosperity, says his group will be working with other organizations on a grass-roots educational campaign that will initially target conservative groups around the state. The effort won’t go after candidates seeking the many open seats up for grabs in the legislature this fall, but he expects “criminal justice reform will be a hot topic in the fall elections.”
It’s too soon to say whether the groups will put together a legislative package as soon as the 2020 session to push for the kinds of reforms outlined in “Blueprint for Smart Justice,” but it could come in 2021.
“It will depend on who gets elected this fall,” Kay says.