TURN PRISONERS LOOSE IN LOUISIANA?
We have been hearing for years that Louisiana has the
world’s highest incarceration rate. There are currently some 40,000 Bayou State
residents behind bars, at a cost of $350 million a year. The conventional
wisdom from numerous officials in Louisiana is that our prisons are too full,
and that so many incarcerations are costing taxpayers too much money. So do we
turn ‘em loose?
Both candidates in the Louisiana gubernatorial run off have
indicated their support for some type of reform to reduce the current prison
Democrat John Bel Edwards is
being lambasted in TV commercials by Republican opponent David Vitter for
suggesting that Edwards wants to ”release 5,500 violent thugs.”
But Vitter also espouses loosening the
present detention rules in his policy plan called “Together, Louisiana Strong.”
The Senator advocates “cost-effective work release and monitoring programs.”
A number of good government groups are calling for reducing
prison sentences to save taxpayer dollars. For many politicians, it’s all about
A legitimate question
would be that, yes, the state needs to cut costs and save tax dollars.
But at the expense of public safety?
We have heard time and time again that the vast majority of
prisoners are locked up for drug offenses.
But Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a
nonprofit that advocates reducing the prison population, says this is not
“Lots of people think that 80% of
the people who are locked up are there for low–level drug offenses, and that’s
not even close to being true. More than half the people in state prisons today
have been convicted of violent offenses. That’s what they’re serving time for,”
There are also advocates for turning loose or reducing
sentences of nonviolent offenders.
will only violent criminals face harsh sentences?
A criminal can cause devastating damage
without doing bodily harm.
How about a guy like Allan Stanford who ran a massive
Ponzi scheme that bilked the entire life savings of several thousand
Louisianans? He received a sentence of
110 years. Do you think his investors have a desire to let him do community
service so taxpayers can save the money it takes to keep him in prison?
If our politicians want to turn loose “non-violent convicts,”
then consider a host of such crimes that cause untold damage to individuals and
the public. Racketeering, extortion, drug dealing, arson, bribery, a whole list
to of white collar crimes that financially destroy the victim, receiving stolen
goods, tax cheats, robbery, embezzlement; the list is extensive. Should such criminals be “cut some slack” so
that the Louisiana legislature can have more money to spend?
I’m a “Law and Order” fan on late night TV. Night after night, I have viewed episodes of
drug distribution and overdoses that destroy so many lives and tear apart so
many families. And the harm is not just TV fiction. The same stories play out
every single day in our newspapers all over the state. There are numerous cases, growing in number,
of our young folks destroying their lives by making, using and taking drugs
like LSD and a variety of amphetamines. Should Louisiana make light of drugs that cause so much damage
and not give prison time to those involved in the illegal drug trade? Not just No, but hell No.
There most certainly is justification for reviewing both criminal
penalties and sentencing guidelines for a variety of low-level crimes in
Louisiana. Occasional use of marijuana should not be the cause for sending
someone to prison. But a dealer and his chain of distributors are a different
story. Any crime that causes significant harm, by violence or otherwise, should
have to face the consequences.
And these consequences should be more than for the purpose of just
saving money. Yes, Louisiana has the
highest incarceration rate in America. But New Orleans is also the murder
capitol of the U.S. Baton Rouge is not
far behind. There are a lot of bad guys
out there. The discussion of revising prison sentences needs to go beyond the
crime itself. We need to take a hard
look at the cause of all this criminal activity.
The world of crime in Louisiana has cause and effect. We see the
effect in the state’s growing prison population. Our politicians rarely discuss
the cause. You can’t improve effect
(increasing crime) without understanding and addressing the cause. All this
talk about prison reform only addresses a half way solution. And that is not enough.
Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout
the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns
and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s
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