John Bel’s Jailbreak Problem

This might have been the one thing that came up in last night’s debate which, as a matter of facts and public policy, could have legs into November as a problem for Gov. John Bel Edwards. As we noted last night, there was more heat than light in the debate between Edwards and Eddie Rispone, and Edwards lost not because of the rhetoric and argumentation but because of his vituperative and unhinged tone, which got worse and worse as the debate went along.

But there was a segment in the debate in which Rispone hit Edwards on 16 murderers he let out of jail, and Edwards anticipated the question as an attack on his criminal justice reform – or, better put, misanticipated it.

Here’s a video clip…

Edwards figured this was about the criminal justice reform package passed with some Republican support in 2017, probably for good reason. A PAC, Make Louisiana Great Again, associated with Attorney General Jeff Landry has an ad out on Edwards’ implementation of criminal justice reform which is absolutely brutal…

The ad has been something of a hidden bombshell in the governor’s race and it’s clear Edwards is on the defensive about it. We’ve talked about the criminal justice piece quite a bit, so it isn’t necessary to go through too much of it. We understand that the incident north of the LSU campus a month or so ago in which a graduate student at the university was killed in a gas station robbery involved an alumnus of the criminal justice reform, and it’s a bit surprising Edwards hasn’t been hit on that yet.

There’s a lot about this which really doesn’t work, including a report this week from a state audit showing that the Department of Corrections can’t accurately track the correct release dates on inmates, making any effort at prison reform doomed to failure from the start. You would have thought getting the logistical piece corrected would be the first step in even attempting something like criminal justice reform, but you would have thought wrong in Edwards’ case – this, after all, is the same governor who took on Medicaid expansion for some half-million people without having a system to vet them for eligibility, and three years later we’re still sorting through hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on recipient fraud.


But all of that goes to why Edwards would have immediately jumped on Rispone’s statement with the thought that he was hitting him on the criminal justice reform piece. And he wasn’t. Rispone was talking about pardons. Specifically, this…

To be fair, most of these are inmates who are of advanced age and it’s fair to say they don’t constitute the threat to society they once did. You could make the case that it’s acceptable public policy to grant clemency and commutations to some of them. But what Rispone said wasn’t wrong. It was factual. And Edwards’ reaction to it shows pretty clearly that he’s got a problem. Don’t be surprised if the Edwards jailbreak issue doesn’t play heavily between now and Nov. 16.



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