(The Center Square) — A new Louisiana Violent Crime Task Force led by Attorney General Jeff Landry convened this week to study ways to address an issue that’s become a top concern for residents.
“Louisiana has been ranked one of the worst states in the nation in regards to violent crime,” Landry said at the task force’s first meeting Tuesday. “Last week, the city of New Orleans made the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world. What was interesting is that there was no other U.S. cities that made that ranking.”
Landry’s comments point to a report released by the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, an advocacy group based in Mexico City, which compiles an annual report on homicides in proportion to population.
The report listed New Orleans as the eighth most dangerous city in the world, citing 266 homicides in the city of 376,971 in 2022. It is the only city in the top 10 that isn’t in Mexico.
“I think this task force has been put together very carefully with some great people who each bring to this task force a unique perspective of our criminal justice system, and our hope is this task force can come up with some recommendations that builds a criminal justice system in the state of Louisiana under which when good people make bad decisions, they get a second chance,” Landry said.
“However, we’re recognizing now there are some bad people on our streets that are inflicting a tremendous amount of damage and pain on the citizens of this state.”
Landry chairs the task force 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 task force is comprised of 12 members with a variety of backgrounds in the criminal justice system, from State Public Defender Remy Starns to Loren Lampert, director of the Louisiana District Attorneys’ Association, including four Republicans and one Democrat from the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.
Task force members on Tuesday moved to authorize staff to collect data from various departments and stakeholders to compile for future meetings, but took no other action. Assistant Attorney General Chris Walters encouraged members to reach out to public partners and stakeholders to provide perspective.
Representatives from several of those stakeholders offered comments to the task force on Tuesday.
“We do hope there is some recognition that the route of hyper-punitive approaches to public policy has not made our state a safer place to be,” said Will Harrell, southern regional director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “The data demonstrates otherwise.”
Katie Hunter-Lowery, with Louisiana Survivors for Reform, a coalition of survivors of violence and homicide, said “we have to think about prevention. We have to think about healing services for survivors.”
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor is currently collecting data from the 2017 criminal justice reforms, which Sarah Whittington, advocacy director for Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana urged the task force to consider.
“It will be critically important and I hope someone on the task force requests the legislative auditor come and provide that data when it is available,” she said.