BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bipartisan effort is making its way through the legislature to address Louisiana's incarceration rate, which is the highest in the nation.
The U.S. Justice Action Network says it conducted recent polls showing that Louisiana voters overwhelming support reforms to the state's criminal justice system. They say 82.6 percent of voters showed support, including 29 percent who say the system needs "major reform."
Kevin Kane, president of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy said the survey is a true indicator of the change people expect.
"The vast majority feel like there are things we could do to reduce our incarceration rate without compromising public safety and that's enormously helpful when you're trying to engage these legislators," Kane said.
The survey claims that 91 percent of respondents support additional rehabilitation for low-level offenders.
"Our poll of Louisiana voters showed a mandate for reform," said Holly Harris, executive director for the U.S. Justice Action Network. "The U.S. Justice Action Network stands with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle who have pledged to work with our organization to bring change to Louisiana. With their leadership, the support of diverse coalitions like Smart on Crime, and overwhelming public support, we can pass reforms that save money and create a more effective and efficient justice system."
Three pre-filed bills are currently being considered at legislative session. They include creating a program that will help offenders get jobs (House Bill 145), providing incentives for mentors to help offenders (House Bill 146), and to establish additional "reentry courts" to increase opportunities to select inmates (House Bill 347).
"That's something I think everybody can get behind. These are really not controversial bills but they're very important," Kane added. "This is something where there is a lot of common ground and you know I've been working on this for several years now and it really is edifying to be able to sit down with people across the political spectrum. We think there's really widespread support for this approach to criminal justice reform."
Louisiana representatives Rick Edmonds (R-District 66) and Helena Moreno (D-District 93) co-sponsor bills 145 and 146. House bill 347 is co-sponsored by Michael Danahay (D-District 33), John Bagneris (D-District 100), Gary Carter (D-District 102), Robby Carter (D-District 72), Randal Gains (D-District 57), Jimmy Harris (D-District 99), Lowell "Chris" Hazel (R-District 27), Valerie Hodges (R-District 64), and Katrina Jackson (D-District 16).
"I've co-sponsored this legislation because Louisiana cannot continue down this path," said Rep. Edmonds. "We spend over $600 million in taxpayer dollars each year on corrections alone, and our recidivism rate is unacceptable. We must work to increase public safety by providing a path for those returning from incarceration to be able contribute to society."