C’est Bon: Prison reform plan handed to JBE

by Walter Pierce

Would reduce Louisiana’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate by 13 percent over decade and save $305 million.

Even as the private-prison industry rubs its greedy, amoral hands together amid President Donald Trump’s tough-on-crime platitudes and GOP fondness for outsourcing — CNN Money reported in late February that stocks of the two biggest private prison operators, CoreCivic (formerly know as Corrections Corp. of America) and Geo Group, have doubled since election day — Louisiana is looking to undo one of its most ignominious distinctions: incarceration capital of the world.

The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task force, a bipartisan consulting group comprising district attorneys, judges, law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and others, has released its comprehensive plan for reducing Louisiana’s incarceration rate, tops not only in the nation but on the planet. The group’s findings come after a year-long examination “of sentencing and corrections trends and research,” according to a press release issued Thursday by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office.

The remedies in the task force’s report would, according to the release, reduce the state’s prison population by 13 percent over the next decade, reduce the number of offenders supervised by the community by 16 percent and save taxpayers $305 million.

Among the starting points in the task force’s examination of the state prison system: Louisiana spending on prisons dwarfs its investments in effective alternatives to incarceration and programs that reduce recidivism.

Other findings in the report:

• One in three people return to prison within three years of release.

• Louisiana sends people to prison for drug, property and other nonviolent offenses at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida, even with nearly identical crime rates.

• Among those sentenced directly to prison rather than probation, the top 10 crimes were all nonviolent, the most common by far being drug possession.

• Over half of the people sent to prison in 2015 had failed on probation or parole by violating supervision conditions or engaging in new criminal activity.

“Louisiana is not only the incarceration capital of the country, we are the incarceration capital of the world,” Edwards says in the release. “For too long this has been a stain on our reputation and a drain on our communities. It’s not a reflection of who we are and what we stand for. We now have a roadmap that will allow us to keep our streets safe while shrinking our bloated prisons. It is now time for us to act.”

“Louisiana is tough on crime, and we’re going to keep it that way,” adds Senate President John Alario. “But part of being tough is realizing that we can’t just throw money at problems. We have an obligation to taxpayers to spend their money in a way that makes them safe.”

Although specific measures were not released Thursday, the task force recommendations, according to the release, are designed to:

• ensure consistency in sentencing and release practices;

• focus prison beds on those who pose a serious threat to public safety;

• strengthen community supervision;

• clear away barriers to successful reentry into the community and the workforce; and

• reinvest a substantial portion of the savings into evidence-backed alternatives to prison, programs that reduce recidivism, and services to support victims of crime.