An Opportunity Roadmap: A Smarter Criminal Justice System
The Alliance for Opportunity was founded to bring poverty relief to people across America. If we want to ensure every American has the opportunity to flourish, it’s time to address poverty that is brought about by our justice system. We need to refocus the current criminal justice system to point people towards successful reentry after they have paid their debt to society. If we want to make our communities safer while reducing recidivism, it’s necessary to ensure justice-involved citizens develop life and work skills for after their time in prison.
Over the past four decades, the United States has expanded the criminal justice system, making it more punitive and relying on incarceration as the default response to crime. In particular, Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates with little return on public safety.
Louisiana’s “tough on crime” policies failed to improve public safety, ran up taxpayer costs, and did not properly prepare the incarcerated for re-entry. Although positive steps have been taken to address this issue, more needs to be done to get Louisiana on the path to prosperity.
Understandably, criminal justice reform can’t simply be about reducing the prison population. Some people are serious threats to public safety and should be in jail. However, there are many that are deserving of a second chance at life. To combat poverty, we have to stop pushing those who have been held accountable for their past transgressions to the fringes of society. To reduce poverty, we need to responsibly reintegrate those with criminal records back into society so they can provide for themselves and their families without reoffending. Doing so will produce safer communities, less government dependency, and taxpayer savings.
One way to help people reenter society is to reduce government induced barriers to work. To ensure justice involved citizens can find work, it’s necessary to reform how occupational licensing boards view past criminals. Moral turpitude and other similar rules stop people from being considered for a profession if they have a criminal record. Instead, “Fair Chance” or “Fresh Start” policies would require boards to take into consideration the nature, relevance, and situation of the crime when screening applicants.
We’ll continue to be a watchdog and demand transparency for re-entry programs. Likewise, we want intensive data monitoring for re-entry programs to ensure quality programs are scaled up and flush out the ineffective programs. Additionally, Pelican and our coalition partners will be working to remove petty fees and perverse incentives from the Louisiana criminal court system. Furthermore, Louisiana should require the use of risk and need assessments to effectively deploy parole or probation resources to reduce risk and promote successful re-entry.
We should also explore the use of Therapeutic Communities (TCs). TCs are specialized in-prison treatment programs for integrating cognitive behavioral therapy to help prisoners accept responsibility for their actions, develop self-reliance, and manage their emotions in a positive way. Reforms like these are critical to ensuring justice-involved individuals are able to return to society and lead a life beyond the justice system.
These policies aren’t simply lofty ideas. Virginia and South Carolina were able to successfully deploy intensive case management and data monitoring to recidivism and now boast the lowest recidivism rates in the country and there’s no evidence of adverse public safety effects. In short, we already have a proven model for effective reforms. Now, the challenge is implementing similar changes across the South.