Part of a strong economy, both at the federal and state level, is a functional and healthy workforce. When a significant portion of your population is incapable of securing employment, crime rates go up and government funds become more significantly strained.
Formerly infamous as a haven for pirates, Louisiana has the highest percentage of its population in prison in the United states. Of course, today, we don’t see authorities running around imprisoning and harshly punishing pirates, but over 140,000 arrests are made yearly in Louisiana. Nearly 2.2 million Louisiana citizens have a criminal record, and over 17,000 individuals are released from prison to reenter society each year. Seeing as a substantial portion of Louisiana’s workforce has to endure specific obstacles to even obtain and retain employment and that Louisiana is ranked as one of the poorest states in the nation, it is especially important for state leaders to use effective means towards creating a stronger state economy.
Currently, Reps. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), Valerie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), and Julie Emerson (R-Carencro), and Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield) are working to push legislation in both the Louisiana House and Senate that will get former prisoners reentering society, back to work. Employment is linked with lower recidivism rates, so efforts by these legislators can have an impact on the state’s employment numbers, crime rates, and economy.
House Bills 145, 146, 347, and 1022 focus on assisting citizens reentering the workforce by eliminating obstacles and facilitating the overall reentry process. Specifically, HB 145 and HB 146 help expand the employer liability shield and limit liability for mentors, respectively. These particular bills would encourage more employers to participate in the Reentry Court system, provide ex-offenders access to an estimated 42,000 job openings, and also incentivize more mentors to participate in specialty courts.
HB 347 and HB 1022 concern reentry courts. Reentry courts provide reentry services to a select group of offenders, excluding sex offenders, violent offenders, and those sentenced as a multiple offender. HB 347 expands use of reentry courts in more areas of the state, and HB 1022 clarifies who is specifically eligible access to a reentry court.
House Bills 266, 7, and 1052 address the workforce agenda by assisting ex-offenders directly. HB 7, for example, expands the chance to have certain criminal records to Louisianans who have earned a chance at a fresh start, such as those who have been deemed factually innocent and entitled to compensation for wrongful conviction.
With a nearly 50 percent reduction in the likelihood of receiving a callback or interview for possessing a criminal record, HB 266 assists ex-offenders by delaying a criminal record inquiry for a government job until the interview stage where the applicant has the chance to explain his or her record and offer proof of rehabilitation. HB 266 would not bar an employer from conducting a background check during the interview process, nor prohibit an employer from disqualifying an applicant based on the criminal record itself. Twenty-two states have already implemented policies similar to those found in HB 266, including private companies such as Target and Walmart.
Finally, HB 1052 would implement a more intensive probation supervision practice through a “swift and sure” sanctioning system. This system would handle minor violations during probation more quickly and, consequently, ensure shorter jail stays reducing the likelihood of having probation for individuals revoked. Overall, under a controlled trial, probationers monitored under this system were significantly less likely to be arrested and re-offend.
Current policies in Louisiana create an environment where men formerly incarcerated work 9 weeks less per year and take home 40 percent less pay annually than their co-workers. Formerly incarcerated women face even harsher employment prospects. Eliminating employment barriers and assisting citizens with criminal records who fit specific criteria will lower recidivism rates, cut crime, boost employment, and reduce taxpayer costs. Of all the states in our nation, Louisiana crucially requires effective measures of reform. The policies pushed forward in the above-mentioned house bills are not only critical to advance Louisiana’s economy, but also vital to promote public safety, all while allowing ex-offenders the chance to meaningfully integrate back into society.