NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards said Louisiana is the incarceration capital of the nation, and that needs to change.
On Thursday, a bi-partisan task force that studied the issue approved a package of proposed reforms designed to reduce the imprisonment rate and save the state millions of dollars.
"The very definition of insanity is just to continue what we've been doing, and we're not going to do that," Edwards said to members of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which recommends rewriting sentencing laws and greatly improving prisoner rehabilitation programs.
"Each has been crafted to safely reduce our prison population by up to 13 percent to save our taxpayers over $300 million over the next decade," said Edwards.
"They're right, there are far too many people in jail in Louisiana," stated FOX 8 legal snalyst Joe Raspanti.
"The most common crime admitted to prison is drug possession," said the governor.
Repeat offenses can expose even non-violent law breakers to long jail terms. The Louisiana Supreme Court's Chief Justice Bernette Johnson said during the task force meeting that a man got a 26-plus year sentence for stealing a pair of $5 shoes in New Orleans.
"We have spent $665,000 to date to incarcerate Mr. Johnson for a pair of cheap tennis shoes. I think we can do it better, we need to be smarter," said Johnson.
"We look in the eyes, put the worst of the worst away and then have to put some people that are not away for a long period of time," said New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Laurie White.
The governor said the proposed reforms would clean up the criminal code.
"And make it easier for defendants, victims, lawyers and judges to understand how long people will actually serve in prison, safely expand probation eligibility and narrow sentence ranges," he said.
"A lot of good people have put a lot of work into this project. The only thing I'd like to add is when you take away discretion from judges, you end up getting a lot of very bad, unintended consequences, so I hope that's not where we're going with this," said Raspanti.
And Edwards said neighboring states have adopted less punitive policies for certain crimes, and those policies he says are working.
"Everybody out there look at their results. Imprisonment rates are down and crime rates are down," Edwards said.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman and spokesman for New Orleans D.A. Leon Cannizzaro issued a statement:
"The District Attorney is reviewing the final report of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Taskforce. The District Attorney recently met with Governor Edwards to discuss several important issues relating to public safety in New Orleans. At that meeting the District Attorney agreed to actively support those recommendations that he believes will further his efforts to promote public safety in this city."
"There are always going to be some individuals who need to be in prison for very long time," said the governor.
Legislation to mirror the reforms is expected to be up for discussion for the regular legislative session which begins in April.