…as the latest tale in John Bel Edwards’ Jail-Break Bloopers criminal justice reform saga unfolds with one Nickolos Marchiafava of Baton Rouge, who had to be recollected and tossed back in jail Monday after being released by mistake.
Seriously. He was let out and then put back in, with a “Sorry, our bad” from the Louisiana Department of Corrections (or is it the Department of Collections now?)…
After more than 45 days out of prison, during which Nickolos Marchiafava moved from a local homeless shelter into an apartment and secured a job, Louisiana prison officials determined they had slipped up, saying the 38-year-old man was released too early.
On Monday, they locked him up again.
“This was calculated incorrectly,” said Natalie LaBorde, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. “We don’t have any choice. Under the law he’s supposed to be incarcerated.”
Marchiafava was one of 4,104 non-violent offenders released since November 1 under Act 280 — part of the criminal justice reform package passed this legislative session aimed at reducing the state’s prison population — which allowed some prisoners to knock off more days by behaving well while incarcerated. Under the law, non-violent and non-sex offenders can now be released after completing 35 percent of their sentence, instead of 40 percent.
Marchiafava was released December 6.
“It’s devastating. It’s destroying everything you worked for,” Marchiafava said Saturday. “It wasn’t for doing the wrong thing.”
Officials attempted to pick him up at his apartment Friday, but he was out trying to secure food stamps. Officials then called his stepmother, asking her to make sure Marchiafava turned himself in at the start of the coming week to probation and parole officials.
Marchiafava smoked one last cigarette Monday morning outside the Baton Rouge parole office, before turning himself into his parole officer.
LaBorde said the error in his release-date calculation happened because two of his convictions were entered as concurrent sentences, but they should have been treated as consecutive.
“It’s not his fault, it’s our fault,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc. “This is unfortunate.”
Marchiafava was only found because WBRZ-TV and The Advocate were doing stories on him as one of John Bel Edwards’ prison reform alumni trying to make it on the outside. So much for the value of celebrity.
Let’s not go overboard in our wailing and gnashing of teeth over Marchiafava’s tough break. He might not exactly be a hardened criminal or have a record of violent crime, but his rap sheet doesn’t make him overly sympathetic…
Marchiafava began serving a total of 15 years for convictions of felony theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in 2005. After serving time for those charges, he was released on parole in 2012, but soon after he was picked back up by authorities and convicted of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in 2015 and sentenced to three years.
Still, this is somebody who might be worth taking a chance on. It could be said that if he hadn’t gotten mixed up in drugs he might not have a criminal record.
But Marchiafava’s story is a good indication of how weak Louisiana’s corrections system is in terms of attempting to ease ex-convicts back into society. When he got out of jail he was homeless and had to live in a shelter for a while, and the first thing he did was to sign up for Medicaid and food stamps. Then he found an apartment and got a job making king cakes at Gambino’s Bakery, which is where he was working when he was ordered to turn himself back in.
Now, he’ll have to try to hook all of those things back up again when he’s released for good. For a normal citizen that kind of disruption and inconvenience would be a disaster. For a former meth dealer in and out of jail since before Katrina? Not a great prognosis.
What’s the lesson here? It isn’t that the criminal justice reform plan passed by the legislature and signed by the governor last year was a bad idea. On balance it’s probably a good idea. The lesson is that the implementation of that reform so far is a train wreck, and it’s clear Louisiana has put down none of the infrastructure needed to properly process inmates into the real world so as to successfully transition into law-abiding citizens. Marchiafava’s story, if you strip away the almost comic stupidity of his being released inadvertantly, makes fairly clear these inmates are largely being set up to fail if all the state is doing is transitioning them from prison to welfare – welfare is the environment that so many of the inmates came from in the first place, after all.
And obviously, the Louisiana Department of Corrections is an atrocious mess very poorly suited to properly manage the release of thousands of “non-violent” criminals.
They can’t even tell you who’s due to be let out and who isn’t, and yet they’ve unloaded 4,100 people since Nov. 1 of last year – including a pair of career criminals who went on a burglary spree in Monroe, a man with a 51-page criminal history in Jefferson Parish alone who got himself arrested again four times between being let out of jail Nov. 16 and Jan. 3, and another man who less than a week after being released got hold of an illegal gun and robbed construction workers in Kenner of $900 at a job site. And now Marchiafava, who thankfully didn’t resort to crime again – all he did to get tossed back in jail was try to be an example of how the criminal justice reform plan is giving ex-cons a chance to make good, and when they found out about him they realized he shouldn’t be out and dragged him back in.
Is there any doubt it’s only a matter of time before one of these guys hauls off and kills someone based on the shoddy job of vetting already obvious as the Jail-Break Bloopers saga continues? Of course there isn’t.
And when that does happen, all hell will break loose.
Don’t say you weren’t warned, Gov. Edwards. You were warned.