Editorial: Review of Transitional Work Program should be comprehensive, continuing

Sheriff Tony Mancuso has declared that “all aspects” of a work program for Calcasieu prisoners preparing for release will be reviewed. They should be.

Mancuso’s intention was expressed in response to the recent murder of Brittany Grosse, 21, who worked at Big Daddy’s Grill in Lake Charles and was killed recently near the restaurant where

she worked. Dustin Belast Pleasant, a prisoner in the Transitional

Work Program who was accused of the murder, later died by his own

hand in a cell at Angola State Penitentiary.

Mancuso said this week that changes may

be coming in how the program is carried out. For example, he said,

patrol officers

may stop by prisoners’ workplaces to check on them, in addition to

the spot checks that are routinely done. That’s a good

start. In fact, Mancuso said, spot checks done in the weeks before

the murder showed the program was being carried out effectively,

which is encouraging. Nonetheless, tragically, Ms. Grosse died

despite the Sheriff’s Office’s best efforts.

A word about the program: The Transitional Work Program has been around in some form for at least two decades, perhaps much

longer. More than 3,700 prisoners approaching release from custody take part in the work program in 46 work-release sites

around Louisiana. Standards established for the program include that participants be first-time offenders.

Mancuso said the program is largely

effective. He should not be doubted. When the program works right, it

prepares prisoners

for work in the world outside; they leave custody with a job and

some money to help them make a new start in life. In fact,

inmates pay their per diem expenses for their incarceration up

front in their paychecks. Those are all positive aspects of

the program.

But a murder of an innocent woman is a

terrible price to pay for any program, no matter how well intentioned

the program is,

and bears tough scrutiny. Although Pleasant was a first-time

offender, and met the standards for the program, his conviction

was for a violent offense — aggravated assault on a police

officer. Program eligibility must be reviewed closely.

Calcasieu’s program is small — it includes just two dozen prisoners — which should make it somewhat manageable. Small or not,

though, participants are prisoners and there are no ironclad guarantees that things won’t go wrong.

Mancuso believes in the good effects of

the Transitional Work Program. Those good effects are real when the

program runs well.

The sheriff’s review of the program, especially in light of Ms.

Grosse’s death, should be comprehensive and continuing. The

good of the program and the safety of the public depend on it.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.