(The Center Square) — A new report is putting Louisiana’s crime statistics in the proper perspective, illustrating the dynamic between reforms and public safety using the most recent data.
The Pelican Institute released the report “Crime in Louisiana, Analyzing the Data” on Wednesday to offer lawmakers and the public a look at crime trends over time, and a comparison with other southern states.
The intent is to provide a data-driven perspective on criminal justice policy with hard facts and figures that will help increase public safety, reduce crime, and provide the best use of tax dollars, said Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute.
“These debates tend to be emotional and filled with heated rhetoric, but the right solutions come from the right understanding of the data,” he said. “What we see is in the last stretch of time, property crimes are actually decreasing in Louisiana.
“The increase in violent crime we’re seeing now affected nearly every state in the nation, and Louisiana’s rate of violent crime is actually lower than other neighboring southern states,” Erspamer said.
The data shows property crimes in Louisiana have declined by 30% over the last two decades, while violent crime remained relatively flat from 2014 through 2019, before a sharp increase in 2020 driven mostly by murders and aggravated assaults. Robberies, meanwhile, declined 25% from 2017 to 2020.
The analysis illustrates that violent crime increased across seven other southern states during the pandemic, despite different legal reforms and incarceration rates.
“While its baseline is higher than many comparison states, Louisiana’s violent crime spike is lower than other states and mirrors regional trends,” the report reads. “Georgia and Arkansas saw the largest increases in violent crimes during this period.”
In Louisiana, murders were on the decline after peaking in 1991, until a nationwide increase of nearly 30% in 2020.
Louisiana’s recent criminal justice reforms have resulted in a focus on those violent offenders, while reducing the number of nonviolent offenders in the state’s prison system, from nearly 25,000 in 2016 to around 7,000 in 2020, the data show.
“The data clearly shows that while Louisiana’s nonviolent offender prison population has been diverted to more cost-efficient alternatives, the amount of time served by serious violent offenders in Louisiana has increased between 2000 and 2021,” from about 7 years to around 11 years, according to the report.
“That means resources are being focused on the worst offenders, and that’s where they ought to be,” Erspamer said.
The Pelican Institute also compared changes in violent crime between 2000 and 2019 with incarceration rates in various states, and found states that reduced prison populations generally experienced decreased violent crime, while those the opposite was true of those that increased the prison population.
“Statistically, these changes over time cannot be causally linked, meaning that changing incarceration rates over time does not directly affect crime rates, but it does suggest that reducing incarceration and reducing crime can be carried out independently,” according to the report.
The bottom line: “We got to make smart decisions and not let rhetoric drive the debate,” Erspamer said. “The objective really is to look at the facts, and begin to inform that debate.”
The report offers four ways state and local leaders can reduce crime: properly funding the police, focusing resources on the most serious crimes, employing evidence-based strategies that reduce violent crime, and enacting smart on crime policies that increase public safety and reduce recidivism.