Expect to hear a lot about crime at the Capitol in 2017


You’re going to hear and see our elected class at the State Capitol speak in abundance about crime, incarceration and related issues in 2017—possibly more so than in any other year in recent memory, says Jeremy Alford in his latest column.

“That’s because criminal justice reform is supposedly coming to Baton Rouge,” he writes. “But that word—reform—is often tossed around a little too freely. Elected officials and bureaucrats use the word to inflate their policy initiatives or they attach it to what are otherwise minor legislative accomplishments. This time, however, a true reform movement may be exactly what’s starting to shape up.”

Alford notes that Gov. John Bel Edwards campaigned on a criminal justice overhaul last year and has targeted 2017 for making strides on the issue. Meanwhile, State Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc has even been traveling around the state over the past several months discussing ways to decrease the number of people in prison in Louisiana, he says.

Criminal justice reform won’t be a new topic at the Capitol.

“Lawmakers for years have tried with varying degrees of success to address perceived problems with the way mandatory minimum sentences are handed out and how much discretion judges should receive,” he writes. “Throughout it all, one obstacle has always surfaced: Representatives and senators from conservative districts prefer to cast votes that make them appear to be tough on crime.”

While a lawmaker might find some logic in lessening sentences for nonviolent offenders, Alford explains, they also know it’s a political risk since an opponent can easily send out a mailer making it look like the incumbent let everyone out of jail.

But, Alford says, conservative lawmakers could find cover in 2017 from some unlikely sources.

“The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the more influential voices at the Capitol, partnered with Greater New Orleans Inc. and the U.S. Chamber Foundation last month to hold an “inaugural” criminal justice reform summit,” he writes. “What will be key moving forward is where the different groups locked onto criminal justice reform can agree. Because compromises will ultimately define this movement—or sink it.”

In addition to LABI, the Louisiana Family Forum, another influential group at the Capitol, is working on criminal justice issues too, Alford says, adding their efforts will add a faith-based argument to the debates to come.

“The fact that this particular policy area is on the radar for so many different political factions is a good thing,” he writes. “But it will all mean nothing if a set of compromises can’t be reached over the next few months. Then again, true reforms are never easy.”

You can read the full article here.