Louisiana has the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the country and has seen its prison population and expenditures more than double in the past 20 years. Its violent crime rate is among the highest in the nation, yet the majority of inmates in Louisiana prisons are nonviolent offenders.
A new study details how Louisiana can reduce its prison population and corrections spending without lessening public safety by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and reforming its habitual offender law.
“Harsh, unfair sentences are putting too many Louisianans in jail for far too long, and at a terrible cost to taxpayers and society,” said Julian Morris, vice president of Reason Foundation and co-author of the study. “Louisiana needs to be smart on crime and smart on sentencing.”
End Mandatory Prison for Nonviolent Crimes
The study published by Reason Foundation, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and Texas Public Policy Foundation calls for eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. Rhode Island eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in 2009 and saw its prison population decrease by 9 percent over the next year while also experiencing a drop in violent crime rates.
If mandatory minimums aren’t eliminated entirely, the report recommends implementing a safety valve sentencing provision, which gives courts the ability to overrule mandatory minimums when it finds nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history pose little risk to society. Maine has registered the lowest violent crime rate in the country each year since its safety valve law was enacted in 2003.
The study also proposes altering Louisiana’s habitual offender law so it only applies to those convicted of two or more violent felony offenses.
Focus On Violent Criminals
“Louisiana can significantly reduce its prison population and corrections expenditures, expand rehabilitation programs, and reduce recidivism rates if it focuses the criminal justice system on violent crime and takes a smarter approach to sentencing,” said Lauren Galik, policy analyst at Reason Foundation and co-author of the report.
Pelican Institute president Kevin Kane added that many of the reforms are simply building on other states’ successes, saying, “Other states have demonstrated that sentencing reform can help reduce costs and improve outcomes. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be successful, we just need to understand how other states have reduced incarceration rates while improving public safety. This report demonstrates that sentencing reform is an important part of the solution here in Louisiana.”
Source: Pelican Institute for Public Policy
“Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime,” Reason Foundation, Pelican Institute for Public Policy, Texas Public Policy Foundation: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/smart-sentencing-smart-crime