Optimism and criticism

AG says criminal justice reform isn’t working; Kennedy praises Calcasieu for oil and gas industry

While Louisiana’s congressmen spoke with optimism about the nation’s future, state Attorney General Jeff Landry took time during Friday’s Legis-Gator luncheon to criticize the effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice reform efforts.

The reforms — passed by state lawmakers last year and pushed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards — were intended to drop the prison population statewide. Louisiana went from having the highest incarceration rate, to the second-highest behind Oklahoma.

Landry said the reforms aren’t working because prisoners who are released early don’t have the skills to prevent them from reoffending. He was critical of the criminal justice reform, calling it the “get-out-of-jail-free program.”

“The problem is that the goal was wrong,” he said. “Protecting our citizens must be our No. 1 priority.”

Landry said he wants Louisiana’s prison population to decrease, but not at the expense of public safety. He mentioned other states that have had more success with criminal justice reform because money was set aside up front to fund services like drug courts and supervision.

Landry said 900 people last year who were unemployed, had no GED or job skills benefited from the state’s drug courts. He said the drug court’s recidivism rate is 10 percent after three years, while the rate for those released from prison without any assistance is 35 percent.

Meanwhile, drug court funding has dropped from $12 million in 2016, to $9.5 million, Landry said.

National picture

Several members of Congress said they are confident the nation’s economy will continue to improve and talked about the continued growth of Southwest Louisiana’s energy and industrial sector.

U.S. Rep. and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, received a standing ovation. Scalise was shot in June 2017 during practice before a charity baseball game. He said the economic growth in Lake Charles and surrounding areas is “something we should be proud of.” 

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, praised the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for helping create an economic environment nationwide that “encourages investment and growth.”

“This is a win for every American family, for businesses large and small,” he said. 

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, mentioned the need for a new Interstate 10 bridge, along with improvements to roads and bridges statewide.

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, said 150 members of Congress have signed his “commitment to civility.” He said lawmakers need to remove any negativity from their debate, regardless of political party.

“If we lose that … we lose what it is that makes America great,” Johnson said. 

Higgins said President Donald Trump intends to fix America, “whether anyone likes it or not.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., spoke of the legislation making its way through Congress to address treatment methods for opioid users and enforcement of drug dealers.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said he wishes the rest of the state was in the shape Calcasieu Parish is.

“Thank God for Calcasieu,” he said. “We’re doing so well because of the oil and gas industry.”

Awards

State Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, received this year’s Legis-Gator of the Year award, her first. During the third special legislative session, Davis was a key figure in getting lawmakers to compromise on a sales tax rate that would avoid drastic cuts to health care and higher education.

Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay, a former state representative, received the Chair’s award for being able to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff, received the Government Affairs award for his support of the Chamber Southwest Louisiana’s agenda.

Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, received the Fusion Five award for his ability to work with all legislators.

Ten Leadership awards were given to lawmakers who sponsored key legislation during the session, including Sens. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, and John Smith, R-Leesville.

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