Louisiana legislative task force readies recommendations to curb violent crime



(The Center Square) — A legislative task force is finalizing recommendations for lawmakers to address rising crime in Louisiana, with several critical issues outlined in a meeting this week.

The Louisiana Violent Crime Task Force on Tuesday reviewed a series of potential proposals for lawmakers to consider in 2024, which will be presented in a report due by the end of the year.

The work stems from a House resolution adopted this year aimed at reviewing criminal justice reforms passed in 2016 and 2017, including “Raise the Age” legislation that moved 17-year-old offenders to juvenile justice system, reworked probation standards, and other reforms that moved 1,948 offenders out of the state’s prison system.

Several lawmakers on the task force highlighted a lack of reliable data to measure the impacts of those reforms. They made recommendations to better track offenders and their journey through and after the criminal justice system.

“We’re trying to be data-driven with objective information,” said Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville. “That’s the difficulty we’re all having, is finding data to support some of what’s taking place.”

Bacala noted several issues with measuring recidivism, particularly in the high-crime Orleans Parish where prosecutions have declined dramatically in recent years. Bacala pointed to a decline of 70 jury trials a year to four jury trials, as well as a significant drop in charges filed.

The decline comes as New Orleans was ranked the eighth most dangerous city in the world by the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice with 266 homicides in the city of 376,971 in 2022.

“It can’t go without notice that the numbers are horribly skewed in Orleans Parish when you use recidivism as the measure, by the definition of recidivism being a conviction for a new crime. It’s not an accurate representation of rehabilitation in Orleans Parish,” he said. “I think we need to address the inaccuracy of our criminal records.”

“I think we have to create robust data systems with a lot of data sharing so good decisions are made … I think that’s going to be critical,” Bacala said.

Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, pointed to data collected on violent juvenile offenders that shows violent juvenile crimes have doubled in the last seven years.

“I would recommend our report from this task force address the mounting public safety concerns regarding the housing of juvenile offenders, the veil of secrecy on juvenile violent offenders, and the system and public safety issues emanating from Raise the Age,” she said.

Task force members also stressed the importance of improving transparency at the same time, on offenders and outcomes in the justice system and at the Department of Corrections, both on how offenders behave in custody and how they’re treated.

“When we’re talking about that, I think we need to get information on the mental health diagnosis of these people, the effect solitary confinement has on their mental health, as well as in-custody deaths,” said Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge.

Other issues discussed included the enigmatic nature of sentencing, adequate capacity at juvenile detention centers, “extreme frustration” with the slow pace of the criminal justice system, law enforcement officer shortages, and the high percentage of violent crimes with firearms committed by felons prohibited from owning them.

Rep. Brian Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, who sponsored legislation last session to increase the penalty for felons in possession of a firearm, said limited data shows roughly half to 60% of crimes with firearms are committed by felons with the prohibition.

“It’s my appreciation from the data presented and from DOC that convicted felons in the possession of a firearm, those numbers have essentially doubled” since the reforms in 2017, Villio said.

The task force is expected to compile recommendations over the coming weeks and to hold a final meeting to review and accept public comment on a draft report on Dec. 28.

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