Even before her own daughter's slaying, Theolonious Gage had spoken publicly about her own experience as a victim of domestic violence. But on June 9, 2007, Gage received a call that her daughter's estranged husband ignored a restraining order and fatally shot her in New Roads.
"I became a two-time victim of what I was fighting," Gage said Wednesday morning in the headquarters of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, where prison officials, crime victims and local officials gathered to mark National Crime Victims' Rights Week.
Gage called the slaying of her daughter, 24-year-old Yarnell Keon Gage, a potent illustration of the difficulties in preventing domestic violence.
Her daughter had been separated from her abusive husband for three months, filed a restraining order and was preparing to divorce him, Gage said, "and he still killed her."
Gage's remarks Wednesday morning — in which she stressed that others need to "quit pointing the finger" at women in abusive relationships "and do something" — placed domestic violence at the center of Wednesday morning's event, which comes amid national attention of victim advocacy.
Hillar Moore, the East Baton Rouge district attorney, said the number of domestic violence cases has grown locally, a trend he hopes comes as victims more frequently seek help and report violence to police.
But getting victims to press charges is difficult, Moore said, and presents a frustrating refrain for his prosecutors, whom he said hear from about 20 domestic violence victims a week who ask that criminal charges against their abusers be dropped.
Moore said his office is planning to begin contacting parish residents who are repeatedly victims of crime — frequently, though not exclusively, women who find themselves beaten again and again — in order to offer social services and advice. It's a "call-in" model taken from the successful Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination initiative, Moore said, in which young people identified as frequent criminal offenders are brought in for tough talk, threats and offers of help building law-abiding lives.
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Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, who hosted the Wednesday morning event at his agency's Mayflower Street complex, also noted that many of the inmates in Louisiana prisons are themselves victims of crime — and that work behind prison fences to rehabilitate convicts can prevent violence on the outside.
LeBlanc touted a slate of criminal justice reform proposals currently being drafted for the upcoming legislative session as a smart way to reduce crime while cutting the state's large prison population.
Louisiana, which has a higher incarceration rate than any state in the country or any nation…
A lack of services, such as educational classes or treatment for drug addiction, in local jails where many inmates serve their time, LeBlanc said, leaves them likely to commit new crimes once they are released. He also noted that children of people sent to prison are at much greater risk of winding up in prison themselves.
LeBlanc said sending a Baton Rouge resident convicted of a relatively minor felony to "Catahoula or Transylvania to spend a couple of years and then just be dropped off back in north Baton Rouge is a recipe for disaster."