Sunday, May 26, 2024

Odoms: Public safety is more important than politics

by BIZ Magazine

Anyone following news from this year’s legislative session in Baton Rouge knows that politicians are desperate to be seen as “tough on crime.” At a time when Louisianans are very concerned about crime and public safety, many lawmakers have chosen to exploit this collective anxiety for their own political advantages – at the expense of making our communities safer.

The stack of so-called “tough on crime” bills sent to Gov. Edwards’ desk includes proposals that undermine the historic bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Legislation (JRI) passed in 2017, the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in our state’s history. 

The JRI reforms were built on data and evidence-based solutions designed to lower Louisiana’s prison population and make our communities safer by reducing recidivism, implementing innovative sentencing alternatives and community-based programs for people who committed nonviolent offenses, and saving taxpayers an estimated $262 million. 

Now, just six years later, politicians are working to roll back key reforms by pushing an agenda that does nothing to make us safer, while disproportionately harming Black communities.

One of politicians’ favored “tough on crime” bills is House Bill 70, a proposal Gov. Edwards vetoed during the 2022 legislative session. HB 70 undermines the 2017 JRI plan to reduce excessive sentences by eliminating good time (a reduction of sentence for good behavior) for individuals convicted of a fourth and subsequent nonviolent felony.

Important JRI reforms would further be undercut by House Bill 16, which would increase incarceration rates in Louisiana by instituting a one-year mandatory minimum sentence–without the possibility of parole–for a nonviolent burglary.

We know from hard data that putting more people in jail does not increase public safety. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, and is home to Angola prison, the country’s largest maximum security facility. If incarcerating more people made our communities safer, Louisiana would be the safest place in the country. 

What truly makes us safer is preventing crimes from happening in the first place. This can only happen when we invest in our communities by providing more resources for mental health and addiction services, violence intervention, housing, health care, jobs, and schools. 

And everyone — including law enforcement — is safer when we hold police accountable and make sure jurisdictions have the resources to employ first responders who are trained to respond to mental health crises and in de-escalation tactics.

At a time when our state is running a significant budget surplus, we have the resources to make these critical investments. 

Investing in incarceration and using our legislative process for campaign sound bites aren’t helping to reduce crime or keep any of us safe. We need our lawmakers to prioritize public safety over political agendas, and stop the fear-mongering and discrimination that only lead to more people behind bars, more victims and more fear in our communities.

State legislators approved harmful, discriminatory laws that undermine the landmark criminal justice reforms of 2017 instead of supporting community investment. Their “tough on crime” political stunts have trapped Louisiana in a cycle of mass incarceration and poor outcomes for far too long.

Alanah Odoms is a civil rights leader, mother, and a professional and spiritual support to countless activists across Louisiana and beyond. She is the first Black woman to lead the ACLU of Louisiana in its 65 year history. Before joining the ACLU in June, 2018, Odoms served as the director of the Division of Children and Families, deputy general counsel of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and special counsel to Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice, Bernette J. Johnson.

(Ed’s Note: Republished from Louisiana Illuminator)

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