Louisiana Voters Overwhelmingly Support Sentencing Reform

A recent public opinion survey conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of the American Conservative Union Foundation, RESET Louisiana, the Promise of Justice Initiative, and the Second Look Alliance shows broad bipartisan support for sentencing review and sentencing reform.

Louisiana continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the nation, at tremendous cost to taxpayers- $840 of taxes paid by a family of 4 in Louisiana, every year, go directly to funding incarceration.1 Corrections expenditures in 2019 topped $868 million according to data provided by The Sentencing Project,2 making spending on incarceration the third largest expenditure from the state General Fund. “We have more people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole than do Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee combined. Louisiana is a dramatic and expensive outlier among its neighboring states” said Preston Robinson, Executive Director of the Second Look Alliance.

“We commissioned this research because we wanted to know how the public feels about the rehabilitation of individuals serving time for crimes involving violence. What we found is that 55% of Louisianans believe that once someone has served at least 20 years, reached age 50, and completed a rehabilitation program, they should be eligible to be considered for parole” added Robinson.

RESET Louisiana’s Future believes Louisiana should create a more efficient and effective criminal justice system by implementing evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism. Sentencing reform efforts including the work of The Second Look Alliance can be beneficial to achieving this vision.

Said Mercedes Montagnes of the Promise of Justice Initiative, “This polling affirms what we know to be true, that Louisianans believe in redemption. For too long, we have allowed a convenient but false narrative to dominate our understanding of where the public stands on criminal justice. Instead, we see that the majority of us believe that excessive sentencing is not the Louisiana way.”

David Safavian of the American Conservative Union Foundation remarked that “most Louisianans understand the concept of redemption and want to have a justice system that allows for it. The only thing surprising is that so many of Louisiana’s legislators fail to see where their constituents are on criminal justice policy. We hope this data will send a strong signal of what Louisianans truly believe.”

Recidivism rates among those having served long sentences and participated in re-entry programs are very low- less than 2% for individuals who have participated in the program managed by the Louisiana Parole Project. “Over the past few years, the Louisiana Parole Project has helped over 160 men and women who had served long prison sentences successfully transition from tax burdens to taxpayers. Rehabilitation and redemption are more than possible, and with guided support, formerly incarcerated people can be strong contributors to their families and communities” said Andrew Hundley, Executive Director.

Key Findings:

  • 72% of Louisiana voters support the re-examination of past criminal sentences, with 35% of them strongly supporting the re-examining of sentences in order to provide second chances to people who have served long sentences and who no longer pose a safety threat to their community; 37% support; 10% oppose; 4% strongly oppose. 14% are not sure. Support is strong across all demographic groups and in all areas of the state, and is no lower than 60% in any subgroup.
  • 44% say those serving long sentences for violent crimes should first be eligible to apply for parole at any age, so long as they have completed a rehabilitation program and served at least 20 years of their sentence. 11% say such inmates should need to be 50 years old before first becoming eligible; 10% say age 60; 9% say age 70; another 9% say such inmates should never be eligible to apply for parole.
  • Asked which of two statements they more agree with, 68% say “the purpose of putting people in prison for long sentences is to remove a continuing threat off the street;” 26% say “The purpose of putting people in prison for long sentences is for punishment.”

How Louisiana Compares to Neighboring States:

31% of Louisiana prisoners will not be eligible for parole for 50 years or more. That number is 14% in Arkansas, 13% in Mississippi, and 12% in Texas. Knowing how the length of sentences in Louisiana compares to its neighboring states, which of the following do you most agree with: Louisiana keeps people in prison for about the right amount of time? Louisiana keeps people in prison too long compared to neighboring states? Or neighboring states like Texas do not have long enough sentences?
ResponseALLMaleFemale18-4950+ConservativeModerateLiberalTrumpBidenUrbanSuburbanRural
Keeps In Prison For About The Right Amount Of Time22%23%21%26%19%30%18%10%26%18%24%26%16%
Keeps In Prison Too Long Compared To Neighboring States55%52%57%61%49%43%61%84%43%67%61%52%53%
Neighboring States Do Not Have Long Enough Sentences8%9%8%5%11%10%7%1%12%5%3%9%12%
Not Sure15%16%14%8%21%17%13%5%18%10%12%12%20%
Total100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%
Composition of Who Voted in 2020 Election100%45%55%47%53%42%34%17%52%45%26%41%34%

By large margins across all demographics, respondents felt that Louisiana keeps people in prison too long compared to neighboring states like Texas. Notably, in no demographic did more than 12% of respondents believe Louisiana was doing things well, and that others should emulate Louisiana.

About the research: SurveyUSA interviewed a representative cross-section of 1,050 Louisiana adults 01/08/21 through 01/12/21 using a sample provided by Lucid Holdings LLC of New Orleans. The pool of adult survey respondents was weighted to US Census targets for gender, age, race, education, and home ownership. Of the adults; 844 were registered to vote in the state of Louisiana; of the registered voters, 718 reported having voted in the 2020 election for President of the United States and were asked the substantive questions of this poll.


Sources

1 https://www.statista.com/statistics/624307/per-capita-prison-costs-in-the-us-by-state/

2 https://www.sentencingproject.org/the-facts/#map