Feb 26, 2024 - Politics

What data says on crime as Louisiana lawmakers look to roll back reforms

Illustration of a downward arrow made of crime scene tape.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

As the Louisiana Legislature is poised to backtrack a slate of criminal justice reforms, one expert says there's no data to suggest the legislation being considered will actually help deter crime.

  • "It feels like trying to fix the Saints' quarterback problems by drafting a center-fielder," says crime analyst Jeff Asher, co-founder of the New Orleans firm AH Datalytics.

Why it matters: Legislators have been in Baton Rouge since last Monday rapidly pushing bills through committee during a special session on crime that stands to reshape the state's approach to criminal justice.

The big picture: Americans think crime is getting worse, and that impression is fueling a back-step on criminal justice reforms around the country.

Zoom in: "Crime in Louisiana is out of control," reads the campaign website for now-Gov. Jeff Landry, whose tough-on-crime rhetoric carried through to his call for this special session.

"You could probably find a lot of agreement across the spectrum that violent crime is too high and we should be taking steps to reduce it in smart, efficient ways," Asher says.

  • "But is it getting worse and is it getting worse because of things the state has done? I think the data all points to no."

State of play: At the Capitol, Louisiana legislators are considering bills to create stricter parole standards, reclassify illegal use of a weapon as a crime of violence, raise carjacking sentences, treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system and increase immunity for law enforcement.

  • But "there's no evidence that any of this is going to work," Asher says.
  • The problem with the approach the current bills take is that they focus on what happens after an arrest and especially after prosecution and conviction, Asher says.
  • "But those things have little effect on deterring future crime, for the most part," Asher says, because parole recidivism is so low and it doesn't help to lengthen sentences for people who "age out of crime."

Instead, Asher suggests focusing on improving the state's law enforcement clearance rates, which he says are "substantially falling," per his analysis of FBI data.

  • "The swiftness of a person getting caught is the strongest deterrent," Asher says, way stronger than increasing penalties."
  • Plus, he says, it's not enough to commit to hiring more law enforcement when there's a national shortage of officers. Instead, finding ways to civilianize certain tasks would help ease the burden on police.

What's next: The special session on crime is slated to end by March 6.

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