BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – As Louisiana sees a rise in crime since the pandemic, one lawmaker wants to take a closer look at the criminal justice reform initiatives passed in recent years to study if there is any correlation between them.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has championed the reforms passed early in his administration. But with the recent uptick in crime in the state, one representative wants to create a task force to study that crime increase and see if those initiatives have played a role in them.
In 2017, a package of bills were passed to tackle making changes to sentencing, corrections, and community assistance with recidivism. On the five-year anniversary, Pew reported the state’s prison population had reduced by 24%, largely to a decline in people convicted of nonviolent crimes. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in programs that help victims and also help keep people from returning to prison.
Since the pandemic, there has been a spike in violent crime across the nation. State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, wants to create a task force to study the rise in crime. He said there will be a new administration in office soon he believes will “be more receptive to things [Seabaugh] is more in favor of.”
“To come to some recommendations going forward to see if there is anything that the legislature can do about it and maybe try to all get on the same page going forward,” Seabaugh said.
The language of the resolution makes claims there are obstacles revoking probation, says there hasn’t been a reduction in recidivism, and says crime has risen since the passage of the reforms.
“This committee, this task force that you are creating, they have to have the freedom to speak truth to power. We can’t tell them what we want in the end, by the words that are in the resolution,” said State Rep. Vanessa Caston LaFleur, D-Baton Rouge.
Some took issue with the makeup of the task force not reflecting the groups that worked on the reform measures – which included faith-based groups and nonprofits. Under the current language, the panel is largely made up of state representatives and senators selected by the attorney general, District Attorney’s Association, sheriffs and public defenders.
Various groups who worked on the task forces leading up to the reform initiatives asked to have members placed on the panel to get a full view of the measures and their impact.
“This model works. We welcome the study resolution, but to include models that work. We would ask people in support to consider amending the law to include non-profits, faith-based organizations, and returning citizens themselves,” said Tom Constanza, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Seabaugh made promises to have further conversations about who will make up that task force when the resolution is brought up on the House floor but said he did not want the task force to be too large.