Sen. Kennedy, DOC argue over criminal justice reform
BATON ROUGE - A U.S. Senator and the Louisiana Department of Corrections are engaged in a back-and-forth argument over the state's criminal justice reform efforts.
Monday, Senator John Kennedy released a statement expressing his concerns about the DOC's "ability to protect the public" after nearly 2,000 inmates were released early through Gov. John Bel Edwards' Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act. According to Kennedy, many of the released inmates have been arrested again. At least two of the re-arrested inmates are charged with murder.
The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act, or Act 280, went into effect November 1, 2017. According to the DOC, the act modifies the good time rate for offenders serving time for non-violent and non-sex crimes.
Kennedy says the inmates were released without the probation and parole boards evaluating the risk to public safety. According to his release, in Ascension, Assumption, and St. James Parishes one in three inmates who were released early have already re-offended.
“It’s clear to me that DOC doesn't know what it’s doing, and people are getting killed as a result. You can't let criminals out of jail and just expect them to behave," said Kennedy. That’s like starving a fox and then asking him to guard the henhouse."
Kennedy went on to say that Act 280 has saved the state some money, the public is suffering the consequences of the inmates not being evaluated.
"The state might be saving money by emptying the prisons, but law enforcement and district attorneys are stuck with the tab for arresting and prosecuting these criminals over and over again," Kennedy said. "Even worse, the public’s been placed in danger because of DOC’s incompetence.”
The DOC fired back with a statement Monday evening.
"Senator Kennedy clearly does not understand how offenders' time and release are calculated, or the laws that govern the incarceration and release convicted individuals," the release states. "Good time release is a mechanism that has long been a part of the Louisiana criminal code."
The release goes on to say that statue governing good-time release for those convicted of non-violent offenses is clear regarding the allocation of good-time credit, "which does not discretionary" on the part of the DOC. According to the state department, the statue existed prior to Act 280.
The real issue is a front end problem related to accurately convicting and sentencing people, the DOC statement says.
"The DAs should not plead people down to lesser/non-violent offenses in order to get a high conviction rate," according to the DOC. "And if they do choose this method, they cannot complain when the law governing the conviction imposes a shorter sentence than that of the original charge."
The DOC says the two inmates that are accused of murder have extensive prior arrest records which include several prior suspended sentences where neither did any prison time for those specific offenses.
"The DAs could have at least prosecuted these individuals at a point in time which could have possibly prevented further crimes."
The first year of reforms are detailed in a report from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections which was released earlier this summer, and can be viewed by clicking here.
According to the DOC, 120 of those released on Nov. 1 are back in custody after a violation of their parole or committing new crimes. Another 112 offenders are being detained, many for felony crimes, as they await a legal trial.
The controversy over re-offending inmates has been the subject of multiple WBRZ Investigative Unit reports.