Public safety is of paramount importance. To achieve it, those who commit a crime must be held to account.
But it can’t end there.
Ideally, after accountability comes restoration—and a clean slate.
One of us writing this op-ed, Scott, is a former probation and parole officer. The other, Josh, is a former incarceree who has been restored to full participation in society. He has become a successful businessman and reform advocate.
Together, we understand how critical it is for accountability measures to be coupled with opportunities for restoration.
Justice-involved individuals, who make up one-third of the American population, confront numerous barriers in their effort to return to their community as productive citizens. Reforms that remove unnecessary barriers and provide greater opportunities for employment, housing, and assimilation into their communities have a positive effect on recidivism rates.
They promote public safety and instill hope for justice-involved persons that leads to transformation.
For those men and women who are incarcerated now, reforms that promote evidence-based prison programming are vital for successful restoration. The National Institute of Justice defines prison programming as “a broad array of services and interventions, including substance abuse treatment, educational programming …”
Effective programming aims to achieve greater public safety by ultimately reducing recidivism and improving behaviors inside of prison.
In Louisiana, the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) reforms, which were passed with bi-partisan support, have allowed the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to reinvest a portion of the savings to provide programming for the men and women housed in parish jails which accounts for nearly one-half of the people in DOC custody.
DOC’s use of the regional reentry centers operated by local sheriffs allows for greater family involvement and increased programming.
Once a person has paid their debt to society and demonstrated that they have turned their life around, there should not be unnecessary barriers for a second chance to be a successful member of the community.
One such path to restoration and second chances is Louisiana’s proposed “clean slate” set of laws.
This legislation aims to remove barriers to employment, housing, education, and occupational licensing for justice involved individuals by automating Louisiana’s complex expungement process. Clean Slate complements the diligent work that the Louisiana Department of Corrections provides through programming within the walls of prison that equips people for the day they return to society.
Incarceration has four clearly defined goals: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation.
I (Josh) founded 4th Purpose Foundation to advocate for rehabilitation—the fourth goal—in the form of true transformation.
Many folks in prison are transformed through programming that provides healing and education, mentoring, and spiritual awakening. If incarceration must be necessary, it must be used for the purpose of transforming, and not simply warehousing an individual.
Programming and the culture of a state’s department of corrections are critical elements in success for most men and women involved in the justice system.
Transformation on the part of the incarcerated individual must be met with restoration on the part of society. The hope of restoration—of someday being a part of the community again—is a key incentive for reform.
People often ask us how a prison can serve as a place that can foster both hope and transformation. The truth is they go hand-in-hand.
We all have a part to play.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections must ensure public safety while also offering opportunities for transformation. Employers have a role in fostering hope by giving a second chance to reformed formerly incarcerated persons released back into their communities.
And the rest of us must ensure that we live out our belief that every person is worthy of redemption, and we all deserve a second chance.
That’s what the Louisiana Clean Slate law will provide. Lawmakers can help to ensure this beacon of hope for thousands of Louisiana returning citizens remains bright and beckoning.
Scott Peyton is the Louisiana State Director for Right on Crime and is a former parole officer for both juvenile and violent offenders.
Josh Smith, an ex-felon and founder of Master Service Companies in Knoxville, Tn., sold his successful business to pursue his passion of influencing criminal justice and prison reform policies. Smith was appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to serve on the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force, and recently launched the 4th Purpose Foundation, a nationwide advocacy group for returning citizens.