Gov. John Bel Edwards was in New Orleans last week to accept an award from Court Watch NOLA for his work on criminal justice reform. Ten bills make up the Justice Investment Package, a campaign promise Edwards spearheaded in the State Legislature.
It’s designed to reduce the prison population — currently the highest in the nation — by 10 percent, saving $78 million. That money is supposed to fund programs to help reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders, establish special drug courts and provide drug-prevention treatment.
“Before I even signed the 10 bills, we had individuals who, on the floor of the House, offered amendments to the appropriations bill to take the money before we have even saved a penny and just put it toward the debt, the deficit,” he said.
Edwards said it takes political courage to support criminal justice reform in a tough-on-crime state like Louisiana. He singled out Kenner Republican Senator Danny Martiny for his support of the reform package. Martiny lost his race last month for a seat on the Jefferson Parish Council.
“We need you to remain engaged because it takes a certain amount of courage to vote for things like criminal justice reform," said Edwards. "It’s going to take courage and discipline to make sure that we do reinvest 70 percent of the savings. Because if we don’t do that we’re not going to be as successful as we want to be because we’re not going to have the alternatives to incarceration.”
The Justice Investment Package goes into effect this month.