The 2017 criminal justice reforms that helped Louisiana shed its dubious distinction as the world’s incarceration capital have produced almost $153 million in savings for the state, according to a new report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports on how those savings were used on government agencies and organizations that benefit crime victims and improve public safety.

Savings from the JRI flow to the state’s Department of Corrections, Office of Juvenile Justice and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. Starting in 2024, some of that money will also go to the state’s Community and Technical College System. OJJ and DOC use the savings primarily to fund rehabilitative programming inside their facilities, while the LCLE uses them to fund victims’ services and some law enforcement training.

Gov. Jeff Landry is proposing to roll back those reforms during the 17-day special session on crime that began this week. State Sen. Royce Duplessis, in a guest column for The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, writes that Landry’s agenda won’t address the root causes of crime. 

We also believe in ideas that go deeper, like violence intervention and trauma response programs; expanding mental health services; increasing access to housing; and reducing poverty. Notably, these proposals do not undermine necessary justice for victims and accountability for those who break the law. Unfortunately, this special session will be a terribly missed opportunity, because we could have actually done a lot of things to prevent crime on the front-end, instead of continuing to advance policies that do great for campaigns, but do very little to actually prevent crime.

Reset Louisiana, a collaboration between the Committee of 100, Council for a Better Louisiana and Public Affairs Research Council, warns that rolling back the JRI reforms would increase costs without making communities safer. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports

Crime rates have fallen in Louisiana, according to Reset. A return to warehousing nonviolent offenders would only cost state taxpayers more money and not impact overall public safety, the coalition’s news release said. “Little evidence exists to show that imprisoning criminals with longer sentences reduces crime or recidivism, though it definitely will cost taxpayers more money and put a greater strain on the budget,” they said.

The Washington Post’s Tim Craig reports that Louisiana’s special session echoes similar debates in other states, and could disproportionately harm Black people.

Perhaps no state has more at stake than Louisiana, which until recently had a higher per capita incarceration rate than any other democracy in the world. Black residents make up 67 percent of the prison population — double their share of the total population, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Lawmakers not giving up on poor, hungry children
Rep. Jason Hughes has filed legislation to require Louisiana to participate in a federal program that provides extra food assistance to poor children during summer. It would have cost Louisiana, a state with high rates of food insecurity and child poverty, less than $6 per child to join the program. But Gov. Jeff Landry’s administration decided to reject the funding. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose reports

“Certainly, there is a direct correlation between juvenile crime and poverty,” Hughes told our news partners at WVUE-TV Fox 8. “This is not ‘free money.’ These are dollars that Louisiana citizens pay to the federal government. So, we are declining to accept a return on what our taxpayers have already paid.” … “It’s pro-children, pro-family,” Hughes said. “It’s also pro-business because every dollar that is spent from this program will be infused into our local economy.”

Rep. Aimee Freeman of New Orleans, meanwhile, tried to allocate $3.6 million to the feeding program as part of a spending bill that steers $13 million to various law enforcement agencies. Her effort was derailed Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee along party lines. 

The difficult reality of repealing the state income tax
While most of the gubernatorial candidates during last fall’s election favored repealing Louisiana’s personal and corporate income taxes, only former-Rep. Richard Nelson explained how he would pay for it. Nelson, now the Louisiana Revenue Secretary, explained on the LaPolitics Report podcast that Gov. Jeff Landry wants to take steps to eliminate the state income tax starting in the 2025 fiscal session. But he also acknowledged the difficult reality of replacing the nearly $5 billion the taxes generate. The Shreveport Times’ Greg Hilburn reports

Asked by Alford about the possibility that supporters of the income tax elimination are becoming “less bullish” on the concept, Nelson said, “I think it’s a good goal and a good thing to have. I think depending on the will of the Legislature and how far the governor wants to go, I’d say it’s something worth putting on the table and seeing how far we can go to make that decision. At the same time, it’s $4.5 billion [lost].”

Richard House, former executive counsel for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, in a letter to the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, explains that eliminating the state income tax isn’t the panacea that some think it is:

I have worked in economic development in Louisiana since 2001. Companies are already exempted from most taxes and heavily subsidized for job creation and retention. There have been some successes from this approach, such as CGI, in Lafayette, recruited by former LED Secretary Stephen Moret and further expanded, though negotiation by Gov. John Bel Edwards. That level of success is rare and in that case equally attributable to a strong Lafayette and ULL leadership, as it is to government subsidies.. … Going backward again in revenue raising and government funding won’t benefit economic development in Louisiana.

Reality check: Landry will learn the same tough lesson as former Gov. Bobby Jindal did in 2013 – that eliminating income taxes can’t be done without a dramatic increase in sales taxes to offset the revenue loss. And that is a non-starter for many businesses. When that reality sets in, Landry is likely to call instead for a flat tax, which is also bad policy

Only 1% of eligible students enrolled in literacy program
Fewer than 1% of eligible students are participating in a statewide program that provides one-one-one tutoring sessions for children with reading problems. The Legislature created the statewide literacy program in 2021 in honor of the late Rep. Steve Carter to improve the state’s low reading scores. But as the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall explains, high requirements and low pay for tutors is contributing to the anemic participation: 

Some tutors have been shut out or declined to participate because of requirements meant to ensure that students receive high-quality help. Under the law, participating tutors must be certified teachers who have completed a rigorous literacy course that can last up to 55 hours. “It’s very, very labor- and time-intensive,” said Amanda Vincent, founder of Studyville, a tutoring provider that participates in the program. In addition, the state’s price cap for participating tutors — $40 per hour for individual sessions and less for group lessons — is far less than what some companies typically charge.

Number of the Day
$153 million – Amount of money the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms have saved the state. The bipartisan reforms increased savings for the state and improved public safety by reducing the number of people serving time for non-violent offenses and increasing the number of violent offenders. (Source: Louisiana Legislative Auditor