One of Louisiana’s real accomplishments is its effort to stop being one of the world’s leading jailers for a jurisdiction its size. That initiative, bipartisan and difficult to achieve legislatively, has earned admiration from the White House — even though Gov. John Bel Edwards is a Democrat and President Donald Trump hails from the GOP.
So why do some Republicans want to scuttle the reforms so soon?
To do so would not be in the interest of taxpayers, because prisons cost so much, nor public safety, because a major goal of the reforms is to prepare inmates to become functioning members of society once they get out.
At a forum before a Republican women’s group in Baton Rouge, two leading GOP gubernatorial candidates criticized the incumbent, and that’s fair enough. Although at that event, businessman Eddie Rispone spoke more sensibly on criminal justice reform, he has since repeated a charge that "thousands of dangerous criminals have been released" during Edwards' term.
Rispone said he wanted to tweak the reform package, passed in 2017 with support from business leaders, GOP think tanks and legislators across party lines. The package is a work in progress, but the overall goals should be embraced by any candidate seeking to portray himself as a fiscal conservative.
The other major GOP candidate, Ralph Abraham, a congressman from north Louisiana, took the wrong tack in Baton Rouge. He vaingloriously declared that those convicted of violent crimes are “not going to get out early under my administration.”
That echoes the criticism of the reforms that has been advanced by two other leading Republicans, Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville.
All these officials ought to rethink their stands. The lock-them-up, throw-away-the-key attitudes of grandstanding politicians is what got us into a prison funding crisis.
In a statement to the Council for a Better Louisiana, which also backed the prison reforms, Abraham said his view is informed by “data and numerous conversations with district attorneys, sheriffs and victims” and said there are “countless cases” of violent offenders released to commit more crimes.
If so, those cases are very few. And if so, Abraham and Rispone should remember that more than nine out of 10 inmates in prisons will eventually get out. The goal of the criminal justice reform is reinvestment, to spend more on training the large numbers of offenders who can’t read or write, or hold a real job that is their one real hope of staying out of prison.
We agree with Abraham that local input is vital in this process, but he’s misinformed if he thinks that has not been going on at the State Capitol during the yearslong debates and compromises on the reform package.