By: Stephen Waguespack
Rarely these days do we in Louisiana hear about the possibility of common ground and a win/win situation.
During the legislative sessions earlier this year, we were told that key priorities like TOPS could be funded, but only with billions in new taxes on families and businesses. Expanding Medicaid was billed as the best way to improve health-care outcomes, though the costs of the program are growing exponentially and will continue to do so in the years ahead. We are now being told the only way to save the coast is by embracing a new mega lawsuit by the administration that targets a vital job-producing industry even while it’s in a severe recession.
Louisiana has entered an era where our leaders regularly tell us the only real way to make progress is to spend more and place the blame and burdens on someone else. Areas of common ground have been few and far between.
But we at LABI are working to forge an exception to this unfortunate new trend in state policy in the area of criminal justice reform.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the nation. Our prison system consumes about 8 percent or $818 million of the yearly state budget (2014 data). Approximately 17,000 individuals are released yearly from Louisiana prisons, but the story doesn’t end there for these former inmates. Four out of 10 end up back behind bars. Addressing this long-standing challenge can help both to relieve the state budget and better protect our communities.
Louisiana should follow the lead of other states and revamp corrections so that training and education in prison follow best practices that reduce the incidence of recidivism. An effective program that identifies, retrains and reintroduces prepared ex-offenders into society helps meet our workforce needs and lessens their likelihood of returning to a life of crime.
Developing the plan to accomplish this goal will be discussed at the Criminal Justice Reform Summit on November 17, 2016, at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge. Panelists will include some of the most experienced reformers from the around the country, as well as front-line stakeholders working for change right here at home. The goal of this conference is to learn more about how reforms around the country can be effective within our system to lower the social and fiscal costs of our current approach while simultaneously increasing public safety. Additional information on the agenda, panelists, and ways to register can be found at www.labi.org.
To do this right, everyone must truly be at the table and recognize the value in engagement. Law enforcement, former offenders, victims and advocates, employers and public officials must work together because the collective benefit for Louisiana is so clear.
A reformed approach to sentencing and effective incarceration programs that prepare offenders for reentry can improve public safety, lower costs over time and reduce Louisiana’s top-rated incarceration rate – in stark contrast to what is in place today. If we all work together in earnest, this just might be the win/win situation we are seeking and sincerely need.