This sounds considerably worse than it actually is, but the idea of making food stamps and other welfare benefits immediately available for drug offenders right out of jail is bound to elicit a visceral reaction from lots of people.
WAFB-TV had a quick story on it…
The bill is HB 177, by Democrat Rep. Helena Moreno from New Orleans (boy, that city’s just full of good ideas these days, right?) Rep. Beryl Amedee tells us the thinking behind it, which isn’t completely irrational…
HB177 is part of the “Justice Reform” package. There is a two-fold theory behind this bill: 1. If we ever want to reduce the jail population, one thing we need to do is treat addicts for their addictions. Putting a person behind bars does not treat their addiction and so they come out unchanged; 2. Try to remove the things that cause people to end up back in jail. Not having enough food can cause people to sell drugs again for grocery money.
If you’re thinking, “OK, but there has to be another way to accomplish that laudable goal other than raiding my bank account in order to give welfare and food stamps to drug-addled criminals straight out of prison, no?” then you probably represent the majority of Louisiana’s taxpayers.
We’re not sure of the prospects this bill has on the House floor, as we’ve been told by one legislator that there is zero chance this measure could possibly pass but by another that there is a strong sentiment to pass at least some elements of a criminal justice reform package in an effort to stop spending so much money on incarcerating criminals in the state.
The effort at criminal justice reform is a bipartisan thing. Just yesterday, Smart On Crime Louisiana put out a video with a couple of major Louisiana business CEO’s – Jay Lapeyre of Laitram, LLC and John Finan of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System – advocating making changes to the criminal justice system.
Here’s the problem, though – there may be a right time to make these efforts, and perhaps now may be the right time for some of them, but events really make it difficult to see a bill like HB 177 passing. After all, while Moreno is trying to give out welfare checks and food stamps to drug felons at the legislature in Baton Rouge, back home in New Orleans the murder rate is up 70 percent and the city is battling it out with Chicago for the title of World’s Murder Capital. In Baton Rouge, the murder rate has skyrocketed 80 percent in the past year.
Asking the people to not only let more people out of jail but then shower government swag on them to boot under such circumstances sets a little higher bar for persuasion than is optimal. This bill, which might actually be defensible policy given that Louisiana may save more money not incarcerating drug offenders if they’re given some help to stay clean out of prison, could struggle to pass the gag test.