I began my career as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans where I prosecuted violent offenders and drug traffickers. I was proud of the work that I did there and I continue to benefit from the education I received in those courtrooms. But the lesson that has stuck with me the most is that, although we’ve been tough on crime, we haven’t been smart on crime.
In Louisiana, we’ve somehow ended up with the highest incarceration rate in the world but still struggle with public safety and recidivism. We’ve sent more and more nonviolent offenders to prison while at the same time cutting funding for effective prison alternatives, programs that reduce recidivism and services to support victims. Our spending on Corrections has ballooned to near $700 Million annually and our crime rates haven’t improved.
I have worked for almost a decade in the Legislature trying to improve our system. In 2015, I created the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force to find solutions that make sense. We worked together, we gathered facts, and we came to informed conclusions that resulted in a final legislative package that is making its way through the House and the Senate.
This was no easy task. Criminal justice reform is personal to everyone. It is personal to the families of those victimized and the families of those convicted. But because of the courage of the task force and my colleagues, the cornerstone of the reform package unanimously passed the House Criminal Justice Committee this week.
My bill, HB 489, is the namesake of the Task Force. It is the reinvestment piece-the most important piece. It sounds cold and clinical when we talk about a better return on our investment, but it’s actually the heartbeat because we are talking about investing in our people. HB 489 directs money saved by reforms back into public safety in the form of prison alternatives, drug courts, victim services, counseling programs, substance abuse and mental health treatment and juvenile justice. HB 489 allows us to invest more in our people and the return is a better quality of life for everyone. In every state where these types of reforms have been implemented, crime rates have gone down and incarceration has also been reduced, strengthening communities in the process.
I would like to send my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has walked this path with me to find smarter and more just solutions to what is often a deeply personal and gut-wrenching issue. After all, this is what we are here to do-we are here to make the difficult decisions. We are here to either press the green button or the red button on the tough votes. We are here to exercise our courage-so please encourage your legislators to take a stand.