Letter to the Editor graphic

I read the editorial concerning the 2017 Criminal Justice Reforms enacted in Louisiana with great interest. In it, you declared broadly that these reforms were responsible for a reduced crime rate in our state. What I find fascinating is that you did not credit a specific reform(s) for this alleged drop in crime rates. I believe you did not because you could not; it does not exist.

Your declaration was tied to the reduction in prison population. However, these two things have no correlation at all. No serious person would suggest that releasing prisoners from jail early somehow magically caused other people to commit fewer crimes. There is no logic to this association.

You also mentioned public perception of crime going up, a disconnect between what people are believing and what is being reported. You blamed this disconnect on "misinformation." That too is unscientific.

To be clear: I have long been a proponent of criminal justice reform. I spent 14 years of my life with a front row seat in our criminal court system as a state prosecutor. For over 10 years, I was the prosecutor for our Drug Court — a program I helped to create in St. Martin Parish.

During that time, such programs were criticized for being soft on crime. I recall my friends in law enforcement telling me that I was involved in a "hug a thug" program. However, over the years, these courts proved to be the most successful programs to reduce recidivism; and they spawned countless other specialty courts to target specific criminal rehabilitation needs.

So when the Attorney General's Office criticized the Criminal Justice Reform package, it was not on the need for reform; it was on the methodology. In our experience, addicts and people committing crimes because of addiction do not just stop this behavior because of shortened jail sentences and wholesale releases from prison. They do so because of treatment, education, and work skills. The legislation enacted in 2017 provided none of these elements.

Instead, the reform package's intent was to immediately lower incarceration rates so that the governor and his allied editors in the media could take credit for Louisiana no longer having the highest incarceration rate in the country. The objective was to simply check a box for pure political expediency.

The truth is that for any reforms to be successful, there must first be an investment into treating the root causes of criminality. Today, drug addiction is the No. 1 driver of that criminality. Yet, it was obvious these so-called reforms would directly have a very negative long-term effect on our proven successful reform programs like Drug Courts.

This is exactly what has been happening, as fewer criminals are opting into these programs with the threat of prison time for crimes such as theft, burglary, and possession of drugs being lessened. That does not bode well for a program that has seen drastic spending cuts over the last couple years.

What's more: I am unaware of any major programs to increase rehabilitation efforts for those people in the criminal justice system. I guess we will have to wait for the reform package's "savings" to magically find their way to the people who need it most. I won't hold my breath.

As the Attorney General has frequently said, this package put the cart before the horse. The failed reforms are releasing people back into society without the treatment and training they need. This is especially true for those who are addicted. Logic, experience, and reason dictate that these folks will be right back in the system; but then as second, third, or fourth time offenders.

Additionally, our office has been deeply concerned about the reform package's classification of "non-violent" offenders. We believed that it was too broad and would allow the release of many criminals with violent backgrounds. We also predicted this would result in new victims of violent crimes. Unfortunately, we were correct. It is well documented that charges for murders and other violent crimes have been filed against criminals released early and without proper screening. If convicted, these reforms will have been proven to be directly tied to the loss of lives.

So the disconnect in your poll and crime statistics can be explained better than "misinformation." There are large amounts of crime that go unreported to law enforcement but not to neighbors or co-workers or fellow parents or church members. Those crimes and concerns are shared and spread among the public (your readers). They should be trusted to discern the safety of their communities. A recent survey of over 182 cities supports this: Shreveport ranked 148th, New Orleans ranked 165th, and Baton Rouge ranked 178th for safest cities. If there is any "misinformation," it is not with the people who are being victimized; it is with you.

Our office and law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level have worked hard for many years to help reduce crime rates in Louisiana. We have arrested thousands of criminals, including hundreds with outstanding warrants. The diligent work by law enforcement and prosecutors deserves credit for dropping crime rates, where they occur, not criminal justice reforms by politicians trying to check a box.

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