Community groups fight harsher prison sentences
BATON ROUGE - Facing a huge increase in heroin-related deaths and arrests, the fight this year at the state Capitol is dominated by bills to increase penalties for heroin-related crimes.
A group of faith leaders from across the state doesn't agree with that approach, though.
"You can't arrest your way out of a public health crisis," said Rabbi Ethan Linden, with People Improving Communities through Organizing. "What drug addiction is, is a public health crisis. Putting people in prison where they don't get treatment doesn't mean they come out with less of a problem."
Last week several sheriff, along with the head of State Police spoke on behalf of a bill that would lengthen prison sentences for both possession and distribution of heroin, something the faith leaders say makes matters worse.
"We're trying to talk about some things to do to reduce number of people in prison for things they shouldn't be incarcerated for," Linden said.
Jamond Bourgeois joined them in opposition to the bill. He spent eight years in prison and knows the problems that an ex-convict faces once released.
"They have guys who are well-qualified coming from serving time, but not being interviewed for these jobs or given a chance," Bourgeois said. "Once you pay your debt, you should have that chance."
Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor takes a tough stance on heroin dealers.
"When there was a life sentence, there was less heroin in Louisiana," Claitor said.
He's sponsoring a bill that will increase penalties for heroin distribution, with a maximum of 99 years prison.
"I'm all for helping addicts beat addiction," Claitor said. "As far as heroin dealers, I'm happy to lock them up."
Claitor's bill was postponed for debate until next week.