Cynthia Tracy described herself Friday to faith and community leaders in Baton Rouge as a speech pathologist, middle-class resident, wife and mother.
Then she added another characteristic to the list. Tracy’s son currently is incarcerated in Louisiana.
Tracy said she started digging into statistics because of her son’s situation and was shocked by what she learned.
Louisiana incarcerates more people per capita than any other place on the planet, she said.
“This isn’t about my son. This is about us. This is about what our taxpayer dollars pay for,” Tracy told a noontime audience at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church on East Boulevard.
Tracy is a member of Together Baton Rouge, which gathered for lunch Friday to call for legislative action combating mass incarceration in Louisiana.
The group called for a cultural shift in how problems leading to incarceration are addressed. The audience included legislators, religious leaders, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III and interim Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr.
Among the suggestions offered by Tracy: Treat drug addiction as a public health problem.
Natalie LaBorde, policy adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal, told the audience that the governor supports House Bill 442. The legislation would allow the Jindal administration to establish a substance abuse probation program for non-violent, non-sex offenders. Incarcerated offenders could get early release by completing a 90-day drug treatment program.
“The purpose of this is to promote treatment,” LaBorde said.
Also in the governor’s legislative package is Senate Bill 227, which would limit the offenses for which nondelinquent offenders could be referred to the juvenile justice system.
Legislators in the audience were given one minute each to describe their pending proposals to change the criminal justice system.
“All my bills, no one likes. But that’s OK,” state Rep. Patricia Smith joked.
Smith, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored legislation last year to give some habitual but nonviolent offenders serving life sentences a shot at freedom. The bill limped through fueled by legislators’ discomfort with the amount of money state government spends on incarceration.
This year, Smith filed House Bill 154 to add “aiders and abettors” to possible parties to a crime. Someone who aids or abets a crime punishable by death or life in prison would face a sentence of 10 to 50 years.
Through House Bill 175, Smith aims to give felons the right to vote while on parole.
State Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, wants to give chief judges the option of establishing mental health courts that would serve as an intervention process for mentally ill defendants. Senate Bill 71 is scheduled to be debated next week in committee.
Broome said the measure would result in an alternative solution that is cheaper than incarceration.
State Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, wants to reduce inmates’ sentences by 110 days if they complete treatment or rehabilitation programs.
He said House Bill 59 could save the state millions of dollars in incarceration costs.
“At the position we’re in today, cutting higher ed and hospitals and everything else, $85 million would go a long way,” Honoré said.