The Edwards administration claims that the legislation led to $12.2 million in savings for Louisiana taxpayers. Also, with the release of approximately 2,000 prisoners beginning last November, Louisiana is no longer the incarceration capital of the nation, that distinction now belongs to Oklahoma.
In another respect, the legislation was a spectacular failure. As U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) noted, "Governor Edwards sells it as prison reform, I think the facts demonstrate that it's prison release." In addition, Kennedy claimed that the release occurred with “no hearing, no probation hearing, or parole hearing, they just let them out.”
Among the 2,000 prisoners released, two have been accused of murder, Paul Jackson and Richard McClendon. If two of the released prisoners are convicted of murder charges, it is a shocking betrayal of public safety.
Possibly, two Louisiana citizens would be alive today if not for this prisoner release legislation being enacted. It was always the concern of opponents that the newly released prisoners would revert to their old habits and lifestyle of crime. Obviously, their concerns were well founded.
Politically, this development will not bode well for Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Voters do not like the prospect of violent criminals being released, whether it is for savings or to reduce our incarceration rate.
For example, in the 1988 presidential race, Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, was politically destroyed when voters across the country were informed about Willie Horton. He received a “weekend furlough” in Massachusetts, a program supported by Dukakis to help prisoner rehabilitation. Unfortunately, on furlough, Horton committed a variety of crimes including rape, armed robbery and assault, before being captured in Maryland.
The two individuals who were released in Louisiana both had extensive criminal histories. Neither of them should have been allowed back on the streets to commit more crime.
Kennedy urged Edwards to convene a meeting of District Attorneys and Sheriffs to review the list of prisoners released “because if they don’t, they are going to keep getting people killed.”
Incredibly, about 25% of the inmates released statewide have been arrested again for criminal behavior. In Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes, 33% of the prisoners released early have returned to criminal behavior. All these victims could have been spared anguish if this legislation had never been enacted.
If properly applied, the program may have worked, but, in this situation, there was no evaluation by the probation and parole boards of the risk to public safety. To make matters worse, the programs supposedly in place to work with high risk offenders were never launched.
Despite these failures, the Governor and his administration have staunchly defended this program. Fortunately, Senator Kennedy and other critics are shining a spotlight on what has happened. At this point, corrective action needs to be taken immediately before more innocent people are victimized or killed.