Study Finds Criminal Justice Reforms Not Linked to Rise in Violent Crime in Louisiana

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Over the past year, a popular conservative talking point has been the nationwide increase in violent crime during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Republican lawmakers, including gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Jeff Landry, have attempted to link that rise in crime to criminal justice reforms in more liberal states and cities. However, a recent study from the Pelican Institute for Public Policy examining crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report and Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that’s simply not the case.

In comparing Louisiana’s crime data with other states across the country, Pelican Institute data scientists found four conclusions were true:

  1. Increases in violent crime were a nationwide event in 2020, impacting almost every state
  2. Property crimes are decreasing in Louisiana
  3. Recent violent crime increases in Louisiana were lower than in other southern states
  4. Increases in violent crime were not correlated with criminal justice reforms or decreased incarceration rates

In fact, the study found that the amount of time served by serious violent offenders in Louisiana increased between 2000 and 2021 overall, even while the nonviolent offender prison population has been reduced and those resources diverted towards more cost-effective solutions. According to a report from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, the number of people incarcerated in prisons and local jails under the Louisiana Department of Correction’s jurisdiction has decreased from 35,500 in 2017 to 27,000 in 2022. That decrease was almost entirely driven by a reduction in people convicted of nonviolent offenses.

Source: Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, “Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Reforms, 2022 Annual Performance Report” (Nov. 2022)

What’s more, recidivism rates have also decreased in the five years since the reforms have been enacted. According to the nonprofit PEW Charitable Trusts, recidivism rates have fallen by nearly a quarter since criminal justice reforms have been implemented in Louisiana. This is largely due to the reinvestment of funds formerly spent on incarceration towards reducing recidivism. So far, the state has saved $153 million and has reinvested $70.8 million of that in community-run organizations and Department of Corrections initiatives supporting re-entry and reducing recidivism.

Those changes aren’t unique to Louisiana, either. The Pelican Institute study found that most states who focused on criminal justice reforms saw a reduction in violent crime up until 2020 when the national trend reversed during the pandemic.

“Most states that reduced their prison populations experienced decreased violent crime rates from 2000 to 2019,” the study states. “States that increased their prison population tended to see increased violent crime rates. Rarely did a state with a growing prison population experience less violent crime.”

The Pelican Institute ends its report with several recommendations:

  • Proper funding of police
  • Focusing law enforcement on preventing and solving the most serious crimes
  • Focus on evidence-based strategies proven to reduce violent crime
  • Continue to enact smart-on-crime policies that increase public safety and criminal justice system success

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