Feb 19, 2024 - Politics

Jeff Landry looks to reverse criminal justice reforms in Louisiana

Illustration of a person standing next to a barbed wire fence with a sun in the background

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Louisiana legislators return to Baton Rouge Monday in what will be both the year's and Gov. Jeff Landry's second special session, as conversation in the Capitol turns to crime.

Why it matters: Landry's initiatives would reverse course on former Gov. John Bel Edwards' criminal justice reforms, which are credited with Louisiana shedding its title as the No. 1 most incarcerated state in the world.

The latest: Landry declared a state of emergency Friday, citing Louisiana's dwindling rosters of law enforcement officers, setting the tone for the two-week special session.

State of play: Landry has long been tight-lipped on any actual plans when promising a tough-on-crime approach once he took office as governor.

Zoom in: Landry also hopes to reverse the decades-long precedent of shielding juvenile records and lowering age limits for when a person can be tried as an adult.

The intrigue: State legislators passed a package of criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support in 2017. At the time, Landry called the changes a "reckless approach."

  • Within a year, those reforms were credited with helping drop Louisiana's imprisonment rate from No. 1 to No. 2 in the nation.
  • But Landry's goals, which overall aim to keep jailed people in prison longer, would expand the prison population.

What he's saying: "No one, regardless of their neighborhood or zip code, should feel unsafe. We all want safer communities," Landry said in a statement announcing the session.

  • "We will defend and uplift our law enforcement officials and deliver true justice to crime victims who have been overlooked for far too long," he said. "I am eager to enact real change that makes Louisiana a safer state for all."

The other side: Before he left office, Edwards warned against reversing the reforms in a conversation with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, and the ACLU of Louisiana said it was "deeply concerned" with Landry's proposals.

  • "Lengthier sentences imposed upon Louisianians will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, do not decrease crime, increase recidivism, and unduly target Black and Brown communities," the organization says. "Many of the policy actions outlined by the governor's proclamation directly contradict well-established research regarding criminal justice in the state."

By the numbers: Louisiana's all-time prison population hit a high in 2012 with 39,867 incarcerated people, according to a 2018 Pew report.

  • By 2022, the imprisoned population had dropped to about 27,000, a decrease driven largely by a drop in people imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, according to Pew.
  • Without the reforms, the report says, the state would have been on pace to see a prison population of 36,541 by 2027.

Worth noting: Any changes resulting in a larger prison population would necessarily result in increased prison expenses, as housing people is a costly business.

Meanwhile: Officials also expect details for Troop NOLA, the new force of Louisiana State Police troopers expected to be stationed in New Orleans, to be hammered out during the session.

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