By John Burkhart, Criminal Justice Reform Fellow and Director of Louisiana Campaign for Equal Justice – Southern Poverty Law Center
Louisianans for Prison Alternatives (LPA) is a diverse statewide coalition committed to reducing Louisiana’s imprisonment rate, the highest in the world. Our coalition comprises formerly incarcerated individuals, civil rights attorneys, criminal justice stakeholders, health experts, faith communities, business leaders, elected officials, academics, and concerned citizens from every corner of Louisiana.
During the 2017 Louisiana legislative session, LPA helped pass ten bills resulting from the Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a bipartisan body with representatives from stakeholders in the criminal justice system. The resulting legislation is projected to lower Louisiana’s incarceration rate by 10% and save the state $262 million over the next decade. Similar to other states to undertake justice reinvestment, this legislation is projected to lower Louisiana’s crime rate as well.
Though the work of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force is complete, Louisiana has more work to do. The steps taken during the last session were good, but we have still not broken out of the mindset that sends far too many Louisianans to prison for too long. Louisiana sends individuals to prison for offenses which do not carry sentences in other states. Louisiana sends individuals to prison instead of offering the mental health or substance abuse treatment they may need. Louisiana also imposes needlessly long sentences for offenses where in other states those individuals would be entitled to a second chance at an earlier date.
The collective sum of the faults of our system has resulted in a crisis in every aspect of our society. Too many individuals are needlessly harmed. Too many families are separated. Too many communities are torn apart. Too much money is wasted. Too many future crimes are created by a system which is supposed to produce the exact opposite.
LPA is in it for the long haul. During this fall, we are touring the state to hear from communities and experts about the policies we should push in the upcoming legislative session. We will then work with representatives and senators to draft legislation and devise a strategy to ensure its passage in 2018. We will need help.
For more information about LPA and to join our effort, visit www.splcenter.org and https://www.facebook.com/louisianansforprisonalternatives/ We hope you will join our effort to bring about a more just and safe Louisiana.