It’s not a long list of major accomplishments of the outgoing Legislature, but there is one area in which Louisiana has made significant strides: a bipartisan consensus on smarter approaches to crime and prisons.
The dimensions of the problem are obvious, as per capita Louisiana puts more people in jail than any state and most foreign countries. A significant number of those in prison are jailed for nonviolent offenses and drug-related crimes.
What should the state do? It’s what David Vitter has promised in the governor’s race, a process of “reforming criminal justice so we don’t warehouse young, nonviolent offenders with hardened criminals.”
Unfortunately, Vitter has undermined the bipartisan consensus on this issue by attacking his Democratic opponent as favoring the release of “dangerous thugs, drug dealers, back into our neighborhoods.”
In an attack ad, Vitter pointedly noted that Edwards’ remarks on the subject were at Southern University. Edwards responds that he’s said the same thing to predominantly white audiences.
We don’t want dangerous thugs out of jail, but we’re also quite certain that smarter approaches to crime and corrections won’t do that.
Instead, as Vitter’s campaign platform suggests, we’ve got to make changes so that young people aren’t turned into hardened criminals in the prison system.
Those who get out of prison must have the education and training to get a job and re-enter society productively.
That’s why conservative thinkers at the national and state levels — including Texas and other southern states — have helped to fashion the bipartisan “smart on crime” initiatives now underway.
Louisiana’s Legislature, never notably progressive, has taken the first steps toward developing new policies on crime and sentencing and more effective probation and parole strategies.
Vitter should applaud the role of conservative leaders nationally and Louisiana’s Pelican Institute for Public Policy think tank in pushing for cost-effective approaches to the expensive corrections system. New approaches have helped draw liberals and conservatives into common cause. Law enforcement is at the table and active in the development of the new approaches. Democrats and Republicans in government across the nation have united to work on innovations in this realm.
Vitter’s attacks on Edwards are not only inconsistent with the senator’s own statements but by injecting this issue into partisan politics he undermines the bipartisan consensus on criminal justice in the Legislature.
It should be obvious to Vitter this coalition — as with any partnership — depends on major players refusing to politicize the discussions. That is what Vitter has done, and it has set back the cause of conservative reform in corrections.