Louisiana’s Criminal Justice System Is Broken. These Bills Could Fix Some of Its Problems.

handcuffs” by mayu** is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s no secret that Louisiana’s criminal justice system is one of the most biased, severe, and harmful justice systems in the world. According to reports from the federal government last year, Louisiana incarcerates more people, per capita, than any other state in the country. 

“We warehouse more people in prison than anywhere else, and I think it’s one reason we stay impoverished here,” commented Louisiana Representative Mandie Landry,  “It’s a waste of resources, in the sense of we’re wasting money on jails, but we’re also wasting our actual people.”

In the past decade, criminal justice legislation and reform has become a bipartisan issue, with both progressives and conservatives resenting the humanitarian and economic cost of Louisiana’s high incarceration rate. 

In 2017, both Democrats and Republicans agreed to release thousands of non-violent offenders from prison. Because of this, the state briefly was rid of its title of having the highest incarceration rate in the country, until 2019 when that title was foisted back upon the state. 

“It’s not like people from Louisiana are any more dangerous than people anywhere else,” Landry explained. “There is nothing in the water that makes people in Louisiana commit more crimes.” Why then, does our state continue to lead in incarceration rates? It all comes down to the state’s faulty laws, lack of guidelines, and biased law enforcement. 

Not all Louisiana residents share the burden of the state’s high incarceration rate equally, with minority communities making up the majority of the prison population. In Louisiana, black people only constitute 33% of the population, however, they make up 52% of the jail population and 67% of the prison population. These statistics reveal that our state’s justice system is heavily racially-biased, preventing it from truly being a system of justice.

Believe it or not, having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the country and a system that has proven to be completely racially-biased are two issues that are just the flame on top of the garbage fire that is Louisiana’s justice system. 

Several bills were introduced last week in the Louisiana State Legislature that would address other issues derived from the system. The criminal justice reform bills, which were spotlighted by Operation Restoration, a criminal justice reform advocacy group that focuses on supporting  girls and women impacted by incarceration, include: 

  • HB248—Reduces supervision fee when a person is released on parole under inactive supervision
  • HB419—Provides default language for courts to grant parole credit for time served if someone violates parole
  • HB374 — Proposes changes to residential lessee screenings
  • HB325—Allows a primary caretaker at the point of arrest to make alternative arrangements for minor children
  • HB67 — Repeals certain prostitution-related offenses
  • HB68 — Prohibits solitary confinement for people with mental health disorders
  • HB46 — Provides changes to certain pretrial procedures by speeding up time to screen cases

Amy Mercieca, the policy lead for Operation Restoration, commented “Operation Restoration’s advocacy efforts are focused on issues that we care deeply about. Two of our priority bills moved favorably out of committee today. These bills are intended to keep families together at the point of arrest and to relieve financial pressures for those on parole.” The bills that Mercieca is referencing include HB248 and HB325. 

HB248 will decrease parole fees for people on inactive supervision, since those individuals have not only proved they are reliable and don’t need to be monitored, there also not actually supervised. 

Syrita Steib, the founder and executive director of Operation Restoration, commented that “I paid a monthly supervision fee for 7 years on inactive supervision. This money could have gone towards household bills and investing in my own education and health.”

The money doesn’t go towards supervision, so it could make a much bigger difference in regard to recidivism by staying in the pockets of previously incarcerated individuals, who already have to deal with financial challenges when it comes to getting a job or getting into school. 

HB325, another bill that Operation Restoration spotlighted, is extremely important because it would make sure that the children of arrested individuals are taken care of, lessening the trauma for those children. The bill would set up guidelines for law enforcement officers that would require them to: 

  1. Inquire about whether the arrested person is a primary caretaker. 
  2. If they are, arrange for temporary care for any dependents, and prioritize placement with family or trusted adults over government agencies. 
  3. Be educated on how to minimize the emotional trauma that children experience when a caretaker is arrested. 

Both of these bills and the other ones listed above could lessen the harmful effects of Louisiana’s justice system, helping end cyclical incarceration for individuals and their families. 

To truly fix its system, Louisiana has to address and reverse countless issues within its justice system, and these bills represent a step in the right direction. 

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *