Our opinion: The next step on justice reform

Gatehouse Louisiana

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is trying to get much-needed criminal justice reform passed through the Legislature.

And his efforts are becoming more likely to result in the kind of changes that will remove Louisiana from its shameful place as the world’s leader in incarceration.

Our state has by far the highest imprisonment rate in the world. We lock up per capita twice the national average and more than any other nation.

That is clearly a situation that should change.

And the change is made necessary by a number of considerations.

First, the cost of keeping so many of our people behind bars — with no appreciable decrease in our crime rate — is high.

It takes the form of hundreds of millions of dollars that could and should go toward more pressing and productive causes.

Second, it exacts a social toll that cannot be quantified.

What does our society lose by having so many people — particularly those who were convicted of nonviolent offenses — behind bars?

The cost comes in dollars, of course. But it also comes in broken families and lost opportunities.

The governor’s efforts would make huge dents on all these fronts.

The money savings along is compelling.

The package of bills, if all are implemented, would cut the state’s prison population by about 10 percent in the next 10 years. It would also reduce the costs to the state by an estimated $262 million.

That is a sizable savings. More impressively, though, much of that money would be put back into the criminal justice system in the form of programs aimed at cutting future prison populations by focusing on reducing the number of people who get out only to go back to jail.

Three of the crucial bills made it through the House Criminal Justice Committee earlier this week. Having already been passed by the Senate, the full House can now send them to the governor for his signature.

It should do so.

The bills are focused on opening up new chances for probation or parole for first-time and nonviolent criminals — a move that makes sense for everyone, including the state’s taxpayers.

The change should save money and put us on the path toward making our criminal justice system better for all involved. And it should do so without affecting the public’s safety.

The time has come.

The state’s district attorneys have signed off on these measures, yet another indication that they take us in the right direction.

Let’s hope the House takes the next step.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.