The 2018 legislative session kicked off last week, and there’s a lot at stake – especially for our criminal justice system.
Louisiana is known as the prison capital of the world, with a higher incarceration rate than any other state or country on the planet. Instead of making us safer, Louisiana’s criminal justice system has drained our state budget, diverted money from other priorities, and disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities.
Today that’s starting to change, thanks to a sensible package of criminal justice reforms passed with broad, bipartisan support from lawmakers, district attorneys, sheriffs, judges, business leaders, victims, formerly incarcerated people, and other criminal justice system stakeholders.
While there is still more work to be done, these reforms were a big step forward: reining in mandatory minimum sentences, expanding parole eligibility, and making sure people are no longer thrown in jail for court fees they can’t afford to pay.
These reforms – based on data-driven recommendations of the bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Task Force – are improving public safety by prioritizing prison space for those who pose a real threat and reinvesting the cost savings into local programs that will prevent crime.
Louisiana may be able to shed its title of prison capital of the world – and save at least $262 million over the next 10 years – but only if we stay on course. Right now, there is proposed legislation that could reverse some of the progress made last year.
That’s why this legislative session is so important. Louisiana needs to continue to move forward, and that means building on the criminal justice reforms passed last year – not dismantling them.
The ACLU of Louisiana is proud to be working with Louisianans for Prison Alternatives to advance two big priorities during this legislative session: 1) protecting the progress that we made last year and 2) building on that progress with long-overdue reforms that will help ensure our justice system treats all people fairly.
Here’s what you need to know:
Protect Criminal Justice Reform. Some politicians are trying to score political points by attacking Louisiana’s criminal justice package and advocating a return to the failed “tough on crime” practices that got us into this mess in the first place. Louisianans know better. The package to put Louisiana’s criminal justice system on the path to improvement had bipartisan support and it’s already having a positive effect – reuniting families and saving taxpayer money. Now we need to make sure lawmakers protect these criminal justice reforms and resist calls to dismantle them.
- Finish The Job. Not all the reforms recommended by the Justice Reinvestment Task Force became law. Now it’s time to finish implementing the Task Force recommendations, and to change laws that prevent many Louisianans from being reunited with their families and communities. For example, Louisiana needs to extend parole eligibility to aging prisoners serving long sentences, reform the state’s “habitual offender” law, and limit jail time for technical violations of probation or parole.
Last year, Louisiana sent a strong message about what’s possible when people put aside their differences, bridge partisan divides and come together to make positive change. But that was just the first step. Now the world is watching whether Louisiana will see these reforms through for the benefit of all Louisianans, or whether we’ll get pulled backwards and give in to the politics of fear and division.
Together, we have a historic opportunity to be a model for the nation by implementing forward-looking policies that invest in people instead of prisons. Let’s make sure we seize it.