It seems that every state is jumping on the old proverbial bandwagon to reform their criminal justice system. Texas started doing so more than a decade ago and is saving millions.
Other states in the South such as Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina have done the same. Louisiana, the World Leader for incarceration per person finally decided the state can no longer afford to lock everyone up. What is the big deal about the LA Criminal Justice Reform measures taken this week?
Opinion by C J Oakes
In reforming the Louisiana criminal justice system, lawmakers in that state are drawing a distinct line in the sand opposing President Trumps Justice Department. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for getting even tougher as if the United States does not lock enough people up. Of course, he leaves the price and the costs up to the individual states to bear. Consider that for a moment.
The Department of Justice wants to increase incarceration but does not want to pay for it. The states are facing budget issues and know they can no longer afford to lock away their citizens. So, throughout America, we are seeing a push-back against the ‘get-tough’ approach that has grossly and falsely inflated both the economy and the prison population.
Louisiana is a big deal because Trump carried the state in the Presidential election of 2016. Louisiana is a big deal because, for the last three decades, the state has resisted efforts at reform…it has been one of the true believers in the Reagan Revolution. Thus, it represents a clear and decisive move on the part of the states to leave that failed concept and move to something more sensible.
Addressing the Truth of Getting Tough on Crime
Adam Smith claimed that everything in an economy such as ours operates on the law of supply and demand. The prison system is a good example of this.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan promoted a ‘get tough’ approach to crime; no quarter was to be given; even the smallest crime was to be severely punished. That sounded good, especially for a society who was told almost daily that crime was getting out of control. Yet, if crime was so out of control how is it that America enjoyed the best standard of living in the world?
The fact is that crime was not “out of control.” Crime was high in the 1980s, but not out of alignment with population growth. In addition, one thing which was seriously elevating (skewing) the numbers was the Drug War, which started in the early 70s, was only slightly enforced in that decade, then was escalated during Reagan’s term. Not surprisingly, most of those incarcerated since then have been for drug charges, mostly possession.
No, ‘out of control crime’ was a myth promoted by powerful men who wanted more power; men such as those in charge of the Federal government today. The states, having lost much of their power, both economic and legislative to the Drug War and the ‘get tough’ approach, are pushing back. The states want their power back. Louisiana is just the most stalwart protector of the faith…the final domino to fall.
Addressing the Economic Truth of Incarceration
Finally, Louisiana is just one of a number of states recognizing a simple economic truth of incarceration: Aside from the direct costs, the indirect costs are far too high. How so?
What is gained and lost by incarceration?
Sure, prisons create jobs in construction, manufactured specialty products, and services such as prison guards and such. But who pays for that?
In the case of Louisiana, the growing prison industrial complex is paid for by a stagnating population. From 1810 when the first records were kept until 1980, Louisiana enjoyed good population and resulting economic growth. From 1980 on, the population has largely stagnated, leaving more prisoners to be supported by the same workers. This can only mean more taxes must be raised. It is an unsustainable model.
“One key reason I moved from Louisiana to Texas was because of the insane approach the state has toward criminal justice and taxes. Under Governor Foster, who claimed to lower taxes, I noticed that the math on the tax forms changed so that in reality, though the tax rates were lower, we still paid more. I came to realize that the state must do this to get the revenue needed for its failed approach to the criminal justice system. The alternative is to admit failure and reform the system.” C J Oakes
In reforming the criminal justice system in Louisiana, lawmakers are finally coming to terms with the failure of Reaganomics: It is an unsustainable economic model. Many voices said this in the 1980s, but they were drowned out by a population whipped up by fear by those wanting power.
But, as shown by both the French and the Bolshevik Revolutions, power gained by crushing the economy of the working class only results in disaster. The United States, not the Federal government, but the actual states, are taking the right steps to prevent such a disaster today. Louisiana has just sent a clear message of “Enough!” And good for them.