Both candidates in the Louisiana gubernatorial run off have indicated their support for some type of reform to reduce the current prison population. 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 saving money. 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 true. “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,” He said.
There are also advocates for turning loose or reducing sentences of nonviolent offenders. But 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 global 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.
Peace and Justice
Jim 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 nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.