A convicted car burglar released early from prison last week as a result of criminal-justice reform laws passed this year by the Legislature robbed a construction worker at gunpoint and tried to rob the worker's colleague on Tuesday, according to Kenner police.
It took less than 48 hours for detractors of the new laws — aimed at helping to shed Louisiana's crown as the world's incarceration capital — to hold up Tyrone White's arrest as evidence that the reforms are misguided.
It was not clear how much sooner White, 24, was released because of the new laws.
White was booked on counts of armed robbery and attempted armed robbery after the latest incident, Kenner Police Lt. Brian McGregor said.
McGregor's news release on the incident referred to White's 40-page criminal history "in Jefferson Parish alone" and highlighted the fact that the arrest occurred five days after White was paroled under the new law.
Kenner Police Chief Michael Glaser later told WWL-TV it was frustrating for police to encounter him again so soon. "We present the cases, get them convicted, sent to prison, only to turn around and they're right back in the community," Glaser said.
A political action committee supporting state Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry also wasted no time capitalizing on the news.
"Gov. (John Bel) Edwards' staffer, (corrections secretary) James LeBlanc, indicated we needed to give the 'reforms' time to work," said the release from Citizens for Louisiana Job Creators. "Perhaps we could suggest that anyone who has SIXTY FOUR counts of burglary NOT be set free when Governor Edwards and the Department of Corrections decides to let the next batch of 1,500+ criminals out of jail on Dec. 1.
"As we said last week, lock your doors and, as U.S. Senator (John) Kennedy has suggested, 'You ought to own a handgun just in case.' "
Landry, a Republican widely believed to be planning a run for governor, has often tussled publicly with Edwards, a Democrat.
America Rising PAC, a national political action committee that says it "holds Democrats accountable," attributed the reform package's passage to Edwards. In fact, even though Edwards was a leading supporter of the package, the laws had broad support from Republicans, who dominate the Legislature.
The laws are aimed at reducing Louisiana's world-leading incarceration rate, in part by reducing the amount of a prison term that many nonviolent offenders must serve before they can go free. White had been serving time for a conviction on burglary.
Some law enforcement officials had warned that the laws would result in the release of inmates who would quickly commit new crimes, despite efforts to find them jobs, housing and health care.
Supporters of the new laws acknowledged some recidivism is inevitable. Historically, between 40 percent and 50 percent of Louisiana inmates have been booked with a new crime within five years of their release from prison.
"It’s unfortunate, and I wish everyone who got out would never reoffend," Edwards said Thursday of White's arrest. "But we’re never going to have, I suspect, a recidivism (rate) of zero. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re working toward, but we’re not going to get there anytime soon."
According to McGregor, White pleaded guilty in 2014 to four counts of simple burglary and received a 12-year prison sentence.
Citing information from state probation and parole officials, McGregor said White was released Nov. 2 under the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act, the name given to the reform package.
That act called for earlier release of nonviolent offenders, most of whom were let out days or a few months ahead of schedule. Among the 1,900 inmates released early this month under the new laws, the average parolee saw his sentence trimmed by between 60 and 90 days, according to state corrections officials.
They did not respond to a question about how much time was cut off White's sentence by the new laws.
In any case, his reprieve was a short-lived one.
On Tuesday, McGregor said, White approached two men working on the roof of a home in the 600 block of 27th Street, just north of Louis Armstrong International Airport. He approached the first victim, wielding a gun and demanding money, McGregor said. White then told the second victim to come down from the roof, McGregor said.
Speaking Spanish, the first victim told the second man to come down but to leave his wallet on the roof, McGregor said. White then demanded money from the second victim but fled after realizing he had no money on him.
Kenner police canvassing the neighborhood spoke with residents who described White — nicknamed "Smokey" — pulling on nearby car-door handles a few days earlier. Parole officers later tracked White and arrested him, McGregor said.
Police searched White's home and found a black BB gun as well as clothes matching those worn by the man from the 27th Street stickup, McGregor said.
McGregor listed numerous prior arrests for White, including illegal weapon possession, criminal trespassing and 64 counts of simple burglary.
He had pleaded guilty to counts of simple burglary twice before his 2014 guilty plea, McGregor said. He was given probation following the first plea and was on parole until March 2018 for the second plea when he admitted he rummaged through four unlocked vehicles one night in November 2013.
He took nothing from three of the cars while getting $3 in loose change from the fourth, according to documents.
The Legislature's new reform package aims to take money away from incarceration and instead dedicate it toward rehabilitation and services to help those released from prison transition back into society.
However, despite any savings, the state won't create any new services for those released from prison until July 2018 at the earliest, leaving existing service providers to attempt to fill in the gaps in the meantime.
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen and WWL-TV reporter Paul Murphy contributed to this report.
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