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According to a study, criminal justice reforms have not caused crime to rise in Louisiana

Recent criminal justice reforms in Louisiana, which significantly reduced prison populations, are not at the root of the recent surge in violent crime, according to a new report from the Pelican Institute.

The Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a right-wing organization, released a report Wednesday analyzing crime numbers and incarceration rates to inform the debate on criminal justice policy.

The report came to four main conclusions about the recent rise in crime across the state:

  1. Property crimes are declining
  2. The increase in violent crime was a nationwide event, affecting almost every state
  3. Louisiana experienced a smaller increase in violent crime than other southern states
  4. The increase in violent crime does not correlate with criminal justice reforms or falling incarceration rates

“These conclusions support a body of evidence showing that recent reforms in Louisiana are not the culprits and that intelligent criminal justice reforms, if implemented well, will result in increased public safety in Louisiana,” the statement said Report.

Louisiana’s overall crime rate has been declining since 2019. Property crime rates have fallen by 30% over the past 20 years, and violent crime rates have remained relatively constant from 2014 to 2019, with a sharp increase in 2020 driven primarily by increases in homicide and aggravated assault, the study found .

Despite new criminal justice reforms in Louisiana, which some have blamed as a cause of the rise in crime, violent crime has increased in seven other southern states. Although Louisiana’s baseline rate is higher than many comparable states, the report emphasized, “Louisiana’s violent crime peak is lower than other states and reflects regional trends.”

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The 2020 homicide spike wasn’t limited to Louisiana, as homicide rates jumped nearly 30% statewide that year. The report noted that the homicide rate is a national phenomenon unrelated to anything specific to Louisiana.

According to a 2022 report by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the state’s prison population has declined 24% since 2016, solely due to lower incarceration of nonviolent offenders. From 2016 to 2021, the state halved its incarceration rate for nonviolent offenders. During the same period, the incarceration rate of violent criminals has increased slightly.

The Pelican Institute found that incarceration rates are not indicators of public safety because the 10 states with the largest declines in prison populations over the past 20 years have seen declines in crime rates. Property crime fell in all 10 states and violent crime fell in all but one state, Texas.

Statistically, changes in incarceration rates cannot be causally linked to changes in crime rates. But, according to the report, the data suggests that “reducing incarceration and reducing crime can be done independently.”

“Louisiana’s recent criminal justice reforms have refocused prison beds and resources where they are most needed — toward violent criminals, not those committing nonviolent crime,” the report said.

The Pelican Institute included recommendations to reduce crime and increase public safety: adequately fund the police; Focus law enforcement’s time and resources on preventing and solving the most serious crimes; and continue to implement smart anti-crime policies that increase public safety and reduce the revolving door in and out of prison.

“Public safety reform is too important not to get it right,” said Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute, in a press release. “Decisions should be based on facts and data, and reforms should reflect proven policies that improve public safety, reduce crime and make the most of scarce taxpayer dollars. To do that, we need to have the facts first.”

The study drew on data from the FBI’s 2014-2020 annual estimates and found that 185 of Louisiana’s 317 law enforcement agencies reported complete data, which was included in the analysis. It did not include data from the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System for 2021 because only 19% of law enforcement agencies in Louisiana submitted data to the FBI for a full 12 months last year.

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