Listen Live
Listen Live

On Air Next

Good Morning Good Music
Good Morning Good Music

Audit finds no consensus on impact of Justice Reinvestment Initiative


(The Center Square) — A lack of data and consensus on the impact of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative makes it difficult to assess its effectiveness as lawmakers consider reforms during an extraordinary session.

A performance audit released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor last week comes in response to legislative interest in the challenges Louisiana has faced implementing criminal justice reforms approved in 2017, as well as impact those reforms have had on incarceration and outcomes.

“We found there is no consensus among criminal justice stakeholders on the impact of JRI, which leads to challenges in fully implementing the initiative across the criminal justice system,” LLA Data Analytics Manager Chris Magee said in a podcast accompanying the report.

“These challenges include conflicting criminal justice stakeholder opinions on JRI’s impact, the lack of integrated criminal justice data systems, which limits the ability to calculate statistics and identify trends, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed courts and reduced programs for inmates and those on community supervision.”

A 2022 JRI Annual Performance Report suggests the 2017 reforms, designed to improve re-entry after prison and reinvest savings into recidivism reduction and crime victim support, have saved taxpayers at least $152.7 million in the first five years, with 30% reverting to the General Fund and 70% distributed to the Department of Corrections, Office of Juvenile Justice, Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

While the savings are a positive, Gov. Jeff Landry and many conservative lawmakers are pushing to roll back some of the 2017 reforms amid public outcry over rising crime in recent years. During an extraordinary session that started Monday and runs through March 6, legislators are considering two dozen crime issues, from increased penalties for carjackers to changes to the death penalty to eliminating the need for a concealed carry permit.

Auditors found the number of inmates decreased and the percentage of violent inmates increased following the 2017 reforms, in line with an initiative goal of focusing prison beds on serious threats to public safety.

“While the percentage of those released from incarceration and subsequently returning is lower than the five years before JRI, those who do return are returning sooner than previous years,” auditors wrote. “In addition, we found that those with a violent felony offense in their criminal history returned at a higher rate than those with only non-violent offenses.”

Auditors noted that neither the Department of Corrections nor the Office of Juvenile Justice have developed performance measures to determine the outcomes of JRI-funded programs, and while the percentage of inmates using those programs grew by 13.1 points since 2013, less than half participate each year.

“In addition, JRI-funded services such as community incentive grants, emergency transitional housing, and day reporting centers serve a small portion of those on community supervision,” auditors wrote.

Other findings showed a low percentage of inmates get jobs in fields related to the career and technical education programs they participated in while incarcerated.

The LLA offered a dozen recommendations that ranged from increasing JRI funds to local facilities to boost availability and participation in career and educational programs to better tracking of data and outcomes at both the Department of Corrections and Office of Juvenile Justice.

State officials agreed with all recommendations except one centered on updating statutes in the inmate record system, which Department of Corrections officials said already occurs through multiple processes.