(The Center Square) — A legislative task force on Wednesday delved into efforts underway to examine crime in Louisiana and the impact of the state’s justice reinvestment initiative implemented in recent years.
The Louisiana Violent Crime Task Force heard from various stakeholders on data available to measure trends in crime, mainly related to reforms approved in 2017 aimed at reducing recidivism.
Chris Magee, performance audit data analytics manager with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, testified that auditors are collecting data detailing the effectiveness of the reforms that currently “exists in silos at each of the various agencies involved with implementing (the justice reinvestment initiative).”
“We plan to look at a lot of statistics, identify any deficiencies or gaps that exist within the system, and then come up with recommendations for those deficiencies or gaps,” Magee said.
Kristen Jacobs, LLA auditor leading the analysis, said auditors are conducting fieldwork to collect the data; administering surveys to sheriff’s offices, public defenders, district attorneys and others; and compiling data on people sentenced since the reforms and the rehabilitation services they received.
“We also want to look at overall where these services are being delivered,” she said. “Are they at local facilities, state facilities?”
The effort will involve data from the corrections department for five years preceding the reforms and the five years since, as well as jobs data from the workforce commission, misdemeanor sentencing data, and other metrics to understand the impact of the reforms on violent crime, drug crime, lower level crime, and the individual offenders themselves.
“We’re trying to get that out before the next (legislative) session,” Jacobs said.
Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, and others highlighted that just over half of the state’s more than 300 law enforcement agencies are reporting useful crime data. Task force members noted the state’s largest cities including New Orleans are not included in available data reports.
Ranatza also urged the task force to consider how the decline in law enforcement numbers in recent years plays into the dynamic.
“If we’re going to really want to look at violent crime and we want to really assess the data, we need to do it in a better way,” he said.
Department of Corrections officials supplied the task force with about 3,000 pages of data Wednesday. They outlined how the department is measuring progress from the 2017 reforms, as well as current policy priorities. Task force members plan to digest the data to conclude future meetings.
While the department has produced annual reports on support services and other aspects of the reforms, “this will be the first year we will also include recidivism,” Natalie LaBorde, executive counsel for the department, said of this year’s report, expected in the coming weeks.
LaBorde said the department is also working with a contractor to examine the impact of the reforms from the perspective of community providers and its re-entry center.
Other testimony came from advocates for crime victims, the Office of Juvenile Justice, Louisiana District Attorneys Association, and others.
The task force was created by House Resolution 168, sponsored by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, that cites criminal justice reforms in 2016 and 2017 that “included the stated goals of reducing the Louisiana prison population and reducing the financial burdens placed upon convicted offenders.”
“The state of Louisiana has experienced a rapid and significant rise in violent crime and homicides since these criminal justice reforms,” the resolution read, noting that the state has released 1,948 offenders early since 2017.
The 12 member task force, comprised of lawmakers and stakeholders throughout the criminal justice system, is expected to meet again in late November, with the goal of producing a report for lawmakers by the end of the year.