The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force (LJRTF) released its report last week. If you're so inclined, you can check it out here. Generally, this New Orleans-based criminal defense lawyer thinks many of the suggested recommendations are sound. The LJRTF identified several “policy recommendations” as deserving of consideration. Each of those policy recommendations contains at least two more detailed recommendations that fall under it. The policy recommendations are as follows:
- Ensure clarity and consistency in sentencing
- Focus prison beds on those who pose a serious threat to public safety
- Strengthen community supervision
- Clear away barriers to successful reentry
- Reinvest a substantial portion of the savings
Sounds like good ideas in theory right? Most sane people would agree that if we can do something that creates a greater number of potentially beneficial members of society, a safer Louisiana, AND we can do it for cheaper, it's a no brainer. The only people that I could really see opposing this are your typical Natty Light-chugging, Grizzly-dipping, mouth-breathing, cud-chewing “if you can't do the time, don't do the crime/Louisiana will stop having a problem with high incarceration until Louisianans stop committing so much violent crime” crowd. I would argue that these people (most of whom, I'm sure, would proudly call themselves “conservative”) are missing the forest for the trees. The state was left in a precarious financial position by the administration by our previous governor, the Hon. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal. Implementing these reforms would save the state an impressive amount of money, which those opposed would surely be in favor of. Moreover, most all research I have seen states that the theory of “deterrence” – i.e. the “don't do the crime” cliché – has no effect whatsoever on criminals or would-be criminals.
The report notes that in 2017, the legislature appropriated $625 million for adult corrections. This state expenditure was only surpassed by spending on education and healthcare. The return on investment on the $625 million is downright pathetic; one in three persons released from the Louisiana Department of Corrections will return within three years. I think that the reasons for this go much deeper than simple math and statistics; it's worth noting that Louisiana has some of the worst schools in the country and only New Mexico and Mississippi have a higher poverty rate per capita. The reasons for the recidivism rate are beyond the scope of this post, however, the one in three figure is still one that astounds me. I applaud the LJRTF for these recommendations (the report is 76 pages long but a good read if you are interested in the subject), if the state can't get that recidivism rate down, the recommendations will have much less of an effect. Sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees………..
Some of the things on my wishlist are here, including revamping felony classifications, modifying financial obligations that impact those in the criminal justice system, and focusing prison spots on truly violent offenders rather than drug addicts and those convicted of property crimes. The district attorneys objected to disposing of the 10-year mandatory minimum for felon in possession of a firearm, presumably because they consider those who commit that commit that offense are “violent criminals.” I note that ANY violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law (other than simple possession of marijuana) can serve as a predicate felony for a felon in possession of a firearm charge. Further improvements I would like to see include getting rid of more mandatory minimums, allowing third felony offenders a chance at probation if no previous crime of violence, and for God's sake, ENDING THE WAR ON DRUGS!
Although it's not addressed in the LJRTF's report, one other issue that I would like to see addressed is that of civil asset forfeiture. It is a pernicious practice, and will be addressed in my next blog post.