Fading tax collections have now started to impact public safety. While public defenders have long worked with less than half the needed funding, and Lafayette Parish is shipping pretrial detainees across the state for lack of funding jails here, we are now in new territory.
Cooperation is lacking in Lafayette Parish. Sheriff Mark Garber has made cuts to the Juvenile Assessment Center and job training programs because of a shortage of parish funds. These two programs work to rehabilitate and ensure public safety in the most economical way, and the end of them is going to result in even larger costs to the city-parish government. Some of the changes are also going to increase the delay in processing cases as public defenders cannot efficiently counsel clients who are a days trip away from court, the costs in distant lockups are excessive, and cases will start to stack up, growing the "overflow" at our local facilities.
Kids in trouble won't get services that are proven to help them. The Detention Center is already underfunded and we will now start to go up on the number of kids detained, which tends to be more harmful than helpful. People ready to get trained and become productive will just be costing government money for lodging and health care.
This is very disappointing for a 40-year veteran of Lafayette criminal justice, which often has been a model for the rest of our state. We are not working together on these things like we should, and everybody suffers until we support the system for public safety. While the prosecutors, police, judges, and public defenders are doing what we can to make it work, Lafayette is reaching a critical breaking point. It's long past time for our political leaders to get real about the costs related to an effective public safety program
While I certainly think public defenders are woefully unfunded, I know that the neglect is now much more broadly impacting everybody in the system. The unpopular traffic camera program brought in a million or two annually, so maybe we should restart that and dedicate the money to our criminal justice system to share within the operations of law officers, prosecutors and public defenders. Nobody likes being pinched, but really the computers are not prejudiced against anyone, just violators. The real problem is the computers don't do favors either I guess, but that's a small price to pay for the greater good.
Whatever Lafayette, government agencies shouldn't have to rely on lawsuits for what they need, whether they have badges or law books. Let's be safe in the best 21st-century sense, with a responsive comprehensive criminal justice system.
Fund all agencies 110%.
G. Paul Marx
district public defender, 15th Judicial District