Last week marked the first anniversary of Louisiana’s long-needed criminal-justice reforms.
In that year, there have been some positives and negatives.
Notably, the state’s shameful incarceration rate has decreased. On the other hand, though, there have been several instances of people who were released being accused of other crimes.
That will happen at times. Had the people who were released early under the new laws been kept in jail another one to three months, they still could have been accused of crimes upon their release.
Unfortunately, the issue has become a political football, with critics of the reforms trying to pin blame on Gov. John Bel Edwards, who championed the changes.
Those politically motivated attacks are off the mark. In stark contrast to many statewide efforts that result in legislative action, this one was bipartisan or even nonpartisan. It included members of nearly every interested group and was the result of compromise and cooperation.
And, it has been a success already.
“For too long, Louisiana held the title as the state with the highest incarceration rate,” Edwards said in a statement announcing his Thursday meeting with President Donald Trump. “Today, that is no longer who we are. Following the lead of other Southern, conservative states, we came together with legislators from both parties, the business and religious community, and advocates to enact sweeping reforms in our state. The simple fact of the matter is that what we were doing just wasn’t working. We were locking more people up in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country, and our communities weren’t any safer for it. Our reforms are lowering the incarceration rate, improving public safety, and reducing the recidivism rate.”
Not only do the reforms focus on getting nonviolent offenders out of jail sooner, they redirect much of the savings into programs intended to keep them from returning to jail. For far too long, our state has been saddled with the title of the nation’s incarceration capital. We’ve locked up nonviolent offenders for needlessly long periods of time.
That has worked to divide families, deprive society of tax-paying citizens and ruin lives.
With a new focus on reserving our jails and prisons for the worst offenders and putting more emphasis on keeping people out of jail, our state should continue to benefit from these necessary reforms.
The partisan naysayers will try their best to discredit the changes, but, as Edwards rightly noted, what we were doing clearly wasn’t working. What is happening now should continue to make a positive change.
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