Ronal Sherpas identifies himself as a conservative, law-and-order type. The current professor of criminology at Loyola University in New Orleans previously served as police chief in both Nashville and New Orleans, and has spent over 34 years in law enforcement.
But when it comes to creating an effective strategy to reduce crime, Sherpas’ approach to reducing crime might not be what most people would imagine from a “tough on crime” career police officer.
Writing for National Review, Sherpas suggests that “reducing unnecessary incarceration will help us do our jobs better and keep crime down.” By saving money on arresting those who don’t pose a threat to those around them, Sherpas says that resources can be diverted to where they will do the most good, and will allow the police to be more responsive and compassionate toward those who need help rather than imprisonment.
Reflecting on his days as a beat cop in New Orleans, Sherpas remembers arresting the same individuals week after week, and feeling that he was doing little to stem the tide of crime or to change the behavior of those in the back of his squad car. “The department was using jail as a temporary fix for a larger problem,” he recalls. “Many New Orleanians were serving life sentences two days at a time.”
Upon returning to his home town, this time as police chief, Sherpas initiated changes that sought alternative penalties for what he calls “quality-of-life” crimes disrupting neighborhoods. As a result, arrest rates plummeted, even as murders reached a 28-year low.
“Police have seen firsthand how overly harsh laws affect ordinary people,” he says. “We know how ill equipped the criminal justice system is to address the underlying social and economic issues that cause crime. Trying to force it to do so strains the crucial relationship between police and the communities they serve. It impedes progress toward everyone’s shared goal: a safe place to live.”
Sherpas urges the next administration, whomever that might be, to endorse and support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act as a real, tangible way to reduce unnecessary incarceration. He and other law enforcement representatives recently sent a letter to the presidential candidates of the two major parties to encourage their support of this and other legislation that seeks to break the cycle of crime and provide those stuck in it an opportunity to get the help they desperately need.
“[G]ood policy is not about locking up everyone,” Sherpas says, “it’s about locking up the right ones.”
Prison Fellowship agrees that supporting policies and legislation that take a more restorative approach to crime and incarceration is vital to building a better criminal justice system. Our policy team played a key role in crafting the language of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and continues to work with Senatorial offices in their efforts to pass the bill. To learn more about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and what you can do to support it, click here.