…and thus avoid the political blowback which is coming as a result of those reforms so far. We’re not saying Louisiana didn’t need a prison reform package or that we’re opposed to what passed in 2017, but what’s coming politically isn’t going to be pleasant – and it could well take down some good Republican state legislators who supported it.
And we’re not just trying to save a few friends from their own bad decisions here. A good case can be made that the Right On Crime crowd, well-meaning though it might have been, has been victimized by the implementation of the prison reform package under a governor who cared about only one thing – letting as many people out of jail as possible so he could claim to have been responsible for removing Louisiana from the top of the incarceration-rates chart.
The problem is, that John Bel Edwards’ interest in prison reform was solely to drive a number was not a secret before his inauguration. A speech Edwards gave in early 2015 at Southern University pandering to the crowd by declaring the necessity of releasing 5,500 criminals from the prisons in order to fall below Mississippi’s incarceration rate (at the time Mississippi was the second-leading jailer of its citizens; now, Oklahoma has the title) was picked up by David Vitter’s campaign and used to generate a significant campaign issue in that year’s gubernatorial race. Vitter’s campaign commercial equated Edwards’ proposed jailbreak to the one then-president Barack Obama had engineered in the federal prisons, and for his trouble he was lambasted as a racist by the legacy media.
That Edwards was solely trying to drive a number was known. It perhaps should have made more Republicans circumspect about passing a large criminal justice reform package, but they wanted a bipartisan reform, and they got one.
The problem isn’t so much that the package passed – it’s the fact Edwards got to implement it. And what he’s implemented is quickly becoming a mess the voters will be looking to punish people for.
First, there was the Smokey White case – in which a career criminal with some five dozen burglary arrests in his mere 24 years on the planet lasted less than a week out of prison following his discharge under the terms of the criminal justice reform package before he had himself an illegal gun and used it to stick up a construction crew in Kenner, making off with $900.
Then came the Oil Slickster, whose given name is Ricko Canaz Ball – he earned the nickname due to his propensity for sticking up auto mechanics, a pattern of criminality he went back to as soon as he was released as a prison reform alumnus. Ball lasted in the outside world from November to January, when he was picked up for his role in a string of burglaries.
Or Alton Brooks, who had a 51-page rap sheet in Jefferson Parish alone when he went to prison in November of 2017, and upon being let out had been arrested four more times by January of this year.
Or Daniel Alston and Reginald Capers, who when let out of jail per the reforms immediately set upon the city of Monroe in a burglary spree with some two dozen victims or more.
Then there was Richard McLendon, who celebrated his release after doing time for simple burglary and drug possession by shooting dead one Steven J. Beaird in Haughton; McLendon is charged with second-degree murder.
And Paul Jackson, who went to jail on drug-related charges, was let out thanks to the reforms and is now back in jail on a second degree murder charge.
Those are just a few of the more high-profile examples of the prison-break alumni terrorizing the people of Louisiana.
Not to mention, as evidence for how slipshod the implementation of this reform package has been, the case of Nickolos Marchiafava, who was let out by mistake and then rearrested 45 days later when the mistake was discovered following his having appeared on a local newscast as a poster child for the reforms.
Last week the state’s district attorneys finally had enough, and began releasing statistics on the alarming recidivism among the beneficiaries of Edwards’ criminal justice reform package implementation. The numbers aren’t good…
According to statistics that were revealed during the annual District Attorney’s Conference this summer, nearly one in four inmates who have been released under Governor John Bel Edwards’ criminal justice reform package have reoffended since their release last year.
Last month, the number was at 22 percent according to District Attorney Hillar Moore, who said local district attorneys are tracking the numbers. Of those back in jail, at least five are accused of committing murder.
“This is about making people in Louisiana safer,” Edwards said. “We can actually save money and reduce our incarceration rate and improve our public safety at the same time.”
However, those words are not reality according to local district attorneys.
In the 23rd Judicial District, which covers Ascension, Assumption and St. James Parishes, one out of three of those inmates released on November 1, 2017 has reoffended within eight months of their early release.
“Rehousing them locally, reprosecuting them, doing this all over again,” District Attorney Ricky Babin said.
Babin is the president of the DA’s Association in Louisiana. He said statewide, everyone agrees some of the offenders should have been released, but others should have been checked better.
“There were no parole or probation hearings on these released in November,” Babin said. “It was done strictly by time. It was an automatic parole, and that’s concerning.”
Babin and other district attorneys we talked to Wednesday commented, saying ‘our streets are safer’ is not accurate.
“I’ve seen no evidence that this act has made our streets safer,” Babin said. “I’ve seen evidence that this has reduced the prison population, but that’s not success. That’s math. If you have 40,000 inmates and you let 10,000 out, that’s a 25 percent decrease. The question no one is asking is, ‘should we?'”
Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc’s response to that was, essentially, “Nuh-uh.”
The Department of Corrections disputes the estimation as over-inflated.
“I’m not sure where the DAs are getting their information from,” LeBlanc said. “Our numbers are not anywhere close to what they are saying.”
According to the Department of Corrections’ figures, 120 of those released early are back behind bars because they violated the terms of parole or committed new crimes. About 70 percent of the offenders who are back in custody are there because of offenses committed after their original release dates, meaning they would have been out of prison either way.
Another 112 who were previously released are being detained while they await adjudication. DOC argues that until they are convicted, they should not be considered as part of the “recidivism” rate. But if all were convicted, the recidivism rate from the early release program would be about 11.8 percent, according to DOC’s calculations.
LeBlanc did cop to the fact McLendon and Jackson got out of jail and killed somebody, at least allegedly, but he said one of them was due to be out by the time he committed the murder anyway.
“Those are things that unfortunately happen,” he said.
Which isn’t what most of the state’s voters are going to want to hear. It’s definitely not what Sen. John Kennedy, who along with Attorney General Jeff Landry has been the chief critic of Edwards’ prison reform package, is saying. From a press release this morning…
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) raised concerns today about the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ ability to protect the public after the state’s district attorneys indicated that nearly a quarter of inmates released early through Gov. Edwards’ Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act have been arrested again. At least two of the rearrested inmates are behind bars on murder charges.
Inmates were released without the probation and parole boards evaluating the risk to public safety. In Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes, one in three inmates who were released early has already reoffended.
The Justice Reinvestment Act has saved the state money, but few of the savings appear to be funding recidivism reduction efforts. News reports indicate that pilot programs aimed at working with high risk offenders fizzled.
“It’s clear to me that DOC doesn’t know what it’s doing, and people are getting killed as a result. You can’t let criminals out of jail and just expect them to behave. That’s like starving a fox and then asking him to guard the henhouse,” said Sen. Kennedy. “No one reviewed DOC’s early release decisions, and now the public is suffering the consequences. The state might be saving money by emptying the prisons, but law enforcement and district attorneys are stuck with the tab for arresting and prosecuting these criminals over and over again. Even worse, the public’s been placed in danger because of DOC’s incompetence.”
This is only going to get worse, and now that the DA’s have brought it back to the public’s attention after the Edwards administration had managed to get local news outlets to shut up about the prison reform recidivism last December – something they were far more successful with than we thought. But five separate murders involving Edwards’ jail break alumni? They’re not going to leave that alone – especially not with what promises to be a long slog of a 2019 election cycle on the way.
This is going to be a bloody mess, politically and otherwise, and the only way to avoid being spattered with gore is to distance oneself from it. Particularly for those who supported the reforms. Edwards’ implementation has been nothing short of a clown show, and at some point it’s going to be time for the Republicans who backed the plan to publicly state “This isn’t what I voted for.”