Since being elected a United States senator last year, John N. Kennedy has rarely missed an opportunity to criticize government at the state level, even if he has little direct responsibility for it any more. One such occasion was his release of a video denunciation of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
As many of the newspaper articles he cited came from The Advocate’s reporting, far be it from us to gainsay the senator’s insights. But we differ with him on his argument that it is not possible to change Louisiana’s status as No. 1 in imprisoning its citizens.
Kennedy, R-Madisonville, questioned oversight of the overhaul of state laws that have led to our prison problem, and also charges that Corrections is "utterly unable to administer" the early release of prisoners.
We share his concerns about Corrections’ current management, held over from the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal by Gov. John Bel Edwards. But we question Kennedy’s sweeping conclusions and his hostility to the bipartisan legislation aimed at changing things in state prisons.
Louisiana is late to the party, having passed the bills similar to those in many other states, including some in the South like Texas and Georgia. If those states can reduce prison populations and reduce crime at the same time, we ought to be able to.
Maybe there are problems with Louisiana’s system of prisons, as our reporting has shown: nepotism and outright thievery by officials, favoritism to some inmates. But few states are totally immune from those issues.
And the hard fact, as the senator knows, is that folks get out of prison all the time, more than nine of 10 inmates. Aren’t we better off with a concerted effort to educate them, teach them a skill, supervise them properly while on probation? Certainly.
A great deal needs to be done to make these reforms the kind of success that even Kennedy can applaud. The governor said he is naming an 11-member oversight council for the reforms. We hope that the panel is not composed of too many cronies of the current system.
As Kennedy noted, too many pals of the current administrators have engaged in questionable behavior or even drawn indictments in the sprawling system.
An oversight panel ought to include tough-minded and independent members who are not there to whitewash the current system, but to give people a second opinion on the system’s ability to administer the new laws, and to give today’s inmates the skills and supervision to become productive members of society in future.