Justice Reinvestment Task Force takes positive steps toward final report

Lousiana’s

The governor hopes that the March 16 report will give legislators the guidelines they’ll need when the session begins on April 10 to begin the important task of making more effective laws to protect our citizens and reduce what has become a vicious cycle of incarceration and criminalization of one set of our population while endangering and practically bankrupting another.

Justice Reinvestment Task Force takes positive steps toward final report

Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force agreed on more than two dozen policy recommendations in a meeting Thursday (March 2) that bear the promise of significantly reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rates. The task force will deliver its final report at a public meeting on March 16 in the State Capitol.

The task force features a diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives from Louisiana’s sheriffs, legislators, business coalitions, faith communities, district attorneys, policy advocates and nonprofit representatives. Foundation for Louisiana President and CEO Flozell Daniels, Jr. serves as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ designee.

“A traditionally disparate group of organizations and leaders are coalescing around a justice reinvestment strategy that will reduce Louisiana’s historic incarceration rates, which are No. 1 in America by far, while also reducing extraordinary costs to Louisiana taxpayers and increasing safety by focusing on evidence-based approaches,” Daniels said after the meeting.

Task force members found common ground on many important issues, agreeing to offer sentence reductions and parole opportunities for various inmates based on such criteria as length of sentence, age, readiness and offense. Board members hope to place a focus on keeping young offenders out of the system as much as possible, and preventing older offenders from becoming so institutionalized that they’d have difficulty readjusting to life outside the system upon release. Task force members worked under the reality that Louisiana has far higher prison admissions than neighboring states with similar crime rates. Additionally, the top 10 crimes for which people go to prison in Louisiana are nonviolent – therefore not accruing to benefit of the community’s public safety concerns.

(For more examples, check out the NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune coverage of the meeting.)

What has become most striking about the meetings of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force is the way the issues cross traditional party boundaries and political ideologies as task force members focus on safety, long-term effectiveness, prevention and fiscal responsibility. (For example, read a report co-authored by Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre, “Sheriffs, victims unite for justice reinvestment.” Read the link here.)

The more difficult discussions for the task force as it nears the publication of its final report on March 16 will be how to deal with the more complicated issues surrounding violent crimes. Advisory board members representing the state’s district attorneys have voted against every recommendation regarding violent offenders — including the recommendation that would reduce the current mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for felons caught with a firearm, and would give judges more discretion in sentencing.

The governor hopes that the March 16 report will give legislators the guidelines they’ll need when the session begins on April 10 to begin the important task of making more effective laws to protect our citizens and reduce what has become a vicious cycle of incarceration and criminalization of one set of our population while endangering and practically bankrupting another.

“Studies show that 95 percent of the people go to prison are coming out. What do you want to do? Help them or have them wind up right back behind bars? We need to invest in a way that ensures that they have the evidence-based supports to become contributing members of society — this is the big take away, learned from people who have been locked up for 20 years as well as from the people who have locked them up,” Daniels said.