Louisiana should pass measures to focus prison beds on the most serious offenders, and reinvest a portion of the incarceration savings into evidence-backed alternatives for nonviolent offenders that increase public safety. Other states like Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina that passed Justice Reinvestment reform packages have reduced imprisonment and saved billions, while crime continues to decline. Read Pew’s recent report on justice reinvestment HERE. Check out Smart on Crime Louisiana’s fact sheet HERE. See the recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Task Force HERE.
Recidivism reduction strategies and re-entry services are a key component of criminal justice reform. To that end Smart on Crime Louisiana has endorsed the Louisiana Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (LA-PRI) as a proven model to help address these issues here in Louisiana. Find out more about LA-PRI HERE.
Two years ago, Louisiana created protections for employers that hire those with a criminal record, enacting legislation that limited liability for negligent hiring or failure to supervise unless the employer knew or should have known of the conviction, and the acts were substantially related to the original offense, or if the criminal record included a violent crime or sex offense.
This policy is working to expand employment opportunities for Louisianans, but should be updated to allow a judge to issue a “Certificate of Employability” to those under supervision of a re-entry court. This would expand protection for employers and bolster employment for those supervised by a re-entry court, increasing their chances of a success.
In addition, a policy to limit liability for mentors used by specialty courts in Louisiana would ensure mentors are able to volunteer and serve our communities by guiding and coaching those probationers supervised by the re-entry courts. This, in conjunction with employment, could help to increase the likelihood of stable employment and continued crime-free behavior.
Finally, re-entry courts were started in 2011 in Louisiana, and have now spread across the state to help nonviolent offenders successfully work towards a productive and crime-free life. This initiative was begun as a partnership between judges, district attorneys, other system stakeholders, and the staff at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, in order to increase rehabilitative opportunities and employment of those re-entering society. Programming within the re-entry court includes substance abuse treatment, behavioral therapies, and vocational education at LSP, along with stringent post-release supervision and requirements. The Legislature should work with stakeholders to authorize the establishment of additional courts.
Current law allows Louisianans to seal certain records of nonviolent and lower-level misdemeanors and felonies if ten years have elapsed and the person remains crime-free. This policy should be expanded to additional Louisianans who have earned a chance at a fresh start. Those who have been deemed factually innocent and entitled to compensation should be able to wipe their slates clean, and, after giving the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information a chance to object and explain why sealing these records should not be granted, extending this policy to aggravated battery, second degree battery, aggravated assault, aggravated criminal damage to property, simple robbery, purse snatching, or illegal use of weapons or dangerous instrumentalities could help thousands more turn their lives around. Importantly, this fresh start would only be allowed for those who have remained crime-free and employed for 10 years.
In Louisiana, over 17,000 people are released from prison and re-enter society each year. This represents a significant portion of Louisiana’s population and workforce. However, under our current policies, men who have been incarcerated work 9 weeks less per year and take home 40 percent less pay annually than their colleagues.
Instead of creating economic obstacles, Louisiana could ensure that employers are able to safely and securely hire those with a criminal record. The state could also ensure that those who have earned a second chance are able to obtain housing and achieve gainful employment. This makes good economic sense but would also make our state demonstrably safer. Employment has been linked with lower recidivism rates, meaning these policies could both boost employment and cut crime. This policy agenda will strengthen Louisiana’s economy, lift up its citizens, and restore our communities.
The application for state and local government jobs in Louisiana should not inquire into criminal records. Instead, this inquiry should come at the interview stage, where the applicant has the chance to explain the record, provide context, and offer proof of rehabilitation. This would ensure all have a fair chance at being considered for the state or local government job.
Nineteen other states have already enacted such policies for government jobs, and several large corporations have voluntarily chosen to do so as well, including Target, Wal-Mart, and Koch Industries.
This policy would not require any state or local government to hire a particular applicant, nor would it prevent a state or local government employer from conducting a background check. It would merely prevent a criminal record from being an automatic bar to consideration for employment, and delay the inquiry into the criminal record until the applicant can explain it fully. Further, this policy would apply only to state and local government jobs, not to private entities.