Ricko Canaz Ball is a career criminal undeterred and unrehabilitated by years behind bars. Twenty years ago, his crimes included stealing a minivan, stereo equipment and guns — not to mention endangering lives by leading police on a high-speed chase. More recently, he graduated to robbing so many automobile-related businesses that he was nicknamed “Oil Slickster.”
Ball was able to commit his latest string of crimes because Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act freed him early from prison. Personally, we think the act should be called the Louisiana Prisoner Release and Public Safety Be Damned Act.
We are on a dangerous trajectory in this country. Because we can’t make priorities in government spending, we want to slash prison costs by opening the prison gates and reducing probation oversight. The result is innocent people are becoming victims to offenders who should be in jail instead of on the streets. Criminals have all the rights. Victims have none. The inability of government to live within its means is creating more Get Out of Jail Free cards than the makers of the Monopoly game.
The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act has been a disaster. In fact, now the governor is throwing up his hands and accusing district attorneys and judges of forcing him to free criminals. That’s a sharp turnaround from just a few months ago when he used words like “historic,” “data-driven” and “works better for everyone” to describe the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act.
We do not dispute that the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act was crafted with bipartisan support and the best of intentions. The fact of the matter is that even the most well-crafted henhouse will fail to protect the chickens if they’re guarded by foxes. The Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety is completely incapable of competently executing any type of criminal justice reform. Officials at the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety are too intent on covering up their own misdeeds to ensure public safety.
We are getting a better idea of how well criminal justice reform is working in Louisiana. The state released early 1,900 prisoners three month…
Those misdeeds include a litany of corruption that has spawned investigations and indictments. Underneath all of that is a layer of incompetence so deep that the Corrections Department doesn’t know where a prisoner is on any given day of the week or when he should actually be released from prison.
It’s partly because of the failure of Edwards’ prisoner release program that we opposed sweeping changes to federal sentencing laws. No doubt the federal legislation is well-meaning, but it could slash sentences for people who committed horrible crimes. Our federal prisons are not populated with people who jaywalked or tossed a gum wrapper on the ground. Our federal prisons are populated with drug traffickers, gang members and weapons offenders.
Yet another problem with Edwards’ Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act is that it is cost-driven. Prisoners aren’t being freed because they’ve been rehabilitated. They’re being freed because it’s cheaper than paying their room and board. That’s why Ricko Canaz Ball was unleashed to burglarize businesses in north Louisiana.
Texas took a very measured approach to criminal justice reform. The Pew Charitable Trusts looked at changes to the state’s juvenile corrections system and concluded that Texas was able to cut costs while protecting public safety. One of the tools that Texas created was a program that helps judges determine a youth’s recidivism risk.
The head of the state’s prisons said Friday he’s concerned legislators facing a massive budget deficit may tap into the savings that came from…
Texas is actively helping offenders through substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and community engagement. In Louisiana, freed offenders get a bus ticket. It’s no wonder that Tyrone White quickly robbed two roofers at gunpoint shortly after Edwards’ prisoner release program set him free. Of course, White — all of 24 years of age — also had more than 60 arrests on his record. He didn’t deserve a "get out of jail free" card in the first place, but Edwards temporarily saved money by letting him loose.
We’ve got to be smarter about this. We can’t let prisoners go simply to cut down on the cost of bologna sandwiches. Public safety needs to come first.
John Kennedy is one of Louisiana's U.S. senators. Jeff Landry is Louisiana's attorney general.