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Riegel: Revisiting Louisiana criminal justice reform

August 20, 2018
By Daily Report Staff
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

One of the brighter moments in the state’s recent history was the passage in 2017 of the Justice Reinvestment Act, which sought to reduce the state’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate while saving money that could be reinvested in reentry and workforce training programs, writes Business Report editor Stephanie Riegel in her latest column.

The measure was significant not only because of what it sought to accomplish but because of how it came about, she writes.

For more than a year, a conservative-led group called Smart on Crime Louisiana studied the issue, gathering data not only on Louisiana’s own prison population and costs but on what has—and hasn’t—worked in other states that have sought to tackle the problem.

At the helm of this impressive effort was the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and a couple of key business leaders from New Orleans, chief among them, Laitram CEO Jay Lapeyre.

“In other words, criminal justice reform was the product of study, deliberation, dialogue and compromise,” Stephanie writes. “Its passage was a bright moment for the state because the process that produced it was a shining example of how our democratic system is supposed to work.”

Just a little more than a year later, however, we’re seeing the darker side of democracy, Riegel says. Though criminal justice reform is showing signs of success on several fronts, she adds, it has become a political football.

“And those who would rather sink the state than give Gov. John Bel Edwards credit for anything good are trying to roll back the reforms that just 15 months ago were supported by some of the most conservative voices—not only in Louisiana, but in the entire country,” Riegel writes.

According to statistics from the governor’s office, 19% of those released under the program during its first year have been rearrested, compared to the national average of 44%. (Kennedy has incorrectly stated the first-year rearrest rate is 22%). The recidivism rate, which measures those who are not only rearrested but convicted of a crime, is also down to 6%, compared to its pre-reform average of 15%. Cost savings, meanwhile, total some $12 million for the first year.

“Why are politicos and business leaders not touting that the reforms are beginning to work?” Riegel asks.

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