A fact-check on Louisiana's reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“…We should unite around the opportunity, clarify the facts and bring logic and analysis to assessing success or failure. It is vital that the public keep everyone accountable to the truth.”

Daniel Erspamer, of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, and James Lapeyre, Jr., of Smart on Crime Louisiana, fact-checked Senator John Kennedy’s criticism of Louisiana’s recent criminal justice reforms. Kennedy’s letter overstated re-arrest and recidivism rates for people who received a recalculated “good time” credit, and mischaracterized the process by which this process was carried out. Erspamer and Lapeyre said it was too early to draw conclusions about the reforms’ effects, but noted that the results so far are extremely promising, and that states implementing similar reforms had seen reductions in crime and recidivism.

“That practice also has reduced crowding in the Summit County Jail, and saved taxpayers millions of dollars a year in jail costs.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Justice for All series continued with an step-by-step review of Summit County, Ohio’s pretrial services. Spurred by overcrowding and rising costs, the county adopted a pretrial risk assessment system in 2006. Officials estimate savings of more than $7.3 million in 2016 alone. Akron Municipal Court judge said the pretrial services program was essential: “I’ve never had to do my job without the risk assessment and I don’t think that I would want to.”

“In many cases, people are dealing with mental illness or an emotional crisis of some kind, and if we want to be good cops, it’s up to us to engage them.”

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission trains police officers how to defuse encounters with people experiencing a mental health crisis. Sue Rahr, the commission’s executive director, emphasizes the need to recognize symptoms of mental illness and distress, slow down the action, and bring situations to peaceful resolutions. Along with training in de-escalation techniques, Rahr encourages officers to think of themselves as guardians rather than warriors, who are “going into communities, not war zones.”

“While more time is needed to measure the full impacts of the justice reinvestment legislation I signed last year, the decline in our prison population is certainly a step in the right direction.”

A new report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center predicted that recent reforms would result in a 20% reduction in North Dakota’s projected prison population by 2022, averting $64 million in costs. The justice reinvestment legislation funded behavioral health services, set probation as the presumptive sentence for certain offenses, and reclassified first-time drug possession from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor, among other reforms. The state’s prison population has dropped 6.5% since justice reinvestment policies took effect, a number which includes an 8.4% drop in admissions for drug and alcohol offenses in the past two fiscal years.

“Incarceration cannot be the only option for those struggling with addiction. We must find ways to divert people to treatment and stem the tide of drug-related crime.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, designed to divert people with opioid addiction away from the criminal justice system. Rather than being taken to jail, participants will go to a Volunteers of America triage center, where they will receive addiction treatment and wrap-around services. The program will focus on neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. Overdoses in Louisville are down from their peak in the first quarter of 2017, but first responders had given nearly 1500 naloxone doses in the first seven months of 2018.