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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

A JUSTICE REFORM CHALLENGE: MISSING DATA

A number of signs point to the success of Louisiana’s 2017 Justice Reform Initiative, but as with so many similar initiatives, the whole story hasn’t been told yet – thanks to the absence of sufficient data.


First the good news. In a recent evaluation, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office points to $152.7 million of cumulative savings between October 2017 when the initiative was launched and June 2022. The 2017 Legislation also changed some sentencing practices, including mandatory minimums, with the goal of reducing the incarceration of non-violent offenders. Both state and local inmate numbers dropped from about 59,000 in FY 2017 to about 43,000 in FY 2023, though, predictably, violent inmates increased as a percentage of the totals. Recidivism in general was lower than in the five years prior to the reform, but former inmates who returned to custody came back sooner than in previous years.



While these trends are generally positive, the Louisiana evaluation leaves a lot of unanswered questions. It points out, for example, that criminal justice stakeholders have wildly differing views of the 2017 reforms. A survey conducted as part of the evaluation found 77% of public defenders saw the reforms as positive while 83% of district attorneys considered them negative. Sheriffs had a mixed view.


In addition, while the positive trends present an encouraging big picture, many important specifics are absent.  Throughout the evaluation, the problem of incompatible data systems, and undeveloped performance measures for both the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Office of Juvenile Justice are presented as serious problems. Without attention to measuring the multiple different parts of reform, the state doesn’t know what parts are working well and what aren’t.


The problems with Louisiana crime data were also cited in a December 2023 report from the Louisiana Violent Crime Task Force, which also found gaps in data, missing or incomplete data in crime reporting and a lack of information that can be tapped by policymakers, crime victims or the public.


According to the Justice Reform Initiative evaluation, Louisiana, has “no agency that regularly compiles or analyzes data across all datasets in order to gain a complete picture of criminal justice trends.”  It recommends that the legislature consider addressing criminal justice data issues and removing barriers to shared data systems. In addition, it suggests that “Developing goals and benchmarks and measuring outcomes of the various programs could help DOC determine which programs are effective and could be adjusted or expanded.”


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