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Governor Candidates Agree State Incarceration Rate Needs Curbing

Wallis Watkins

Three of Louisiana’s four major candidates for Governor are displeased with the state’s incarceration rate and lack of alternative mental health programs. 

Lone Democratic candidate John ‘Bel’ Edwards says the two problems are linked. "We have folks languishing in our jails and prisons who are not criminals but are mentally ill," he says.

In order to avoid that, Jay Dardenne says as Governor, he’ll make sure police are properly equipped. "We've got to make sure we have evaluation tools for officers, so they can assess addiction disorders and mental illness," he says, "so that we can equip our law enforcement officers with a mechanism to not just throw someone in jail for minor, nonviolent misdemeanors." 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Louisiana leads the nation - which leads the world - in it’s incarceration rate. In 2014, 816 of every 100,000 state residents were imprisoned. 

Dardenne says sentencing laws would have to be changed "so that nonviolent, first offenders don’t automatically end up behind bars."

Scott Angelle agrees. "If you’re a first time offender and non-violent offender, you get a second chance. But let me make it very clear, I’m into the catch and rehabilitate program, not the catch and release program," he says.  

Like most issues in this election, it comes down to the budget. "The simple fact of the matter is that we don’t have the money necessary to continue to incarcerate these people," says Edwards.

If elected, it’s an issue he intends to solve. "The people in Louisiana are not innately more sinister or more criminal than people elsewhere.  At the end of my first term as Governor," says Edwards, "we’re not going to lead the nation in incarceration rate."

Senator David Vitter did not attend the forum hosted Monday night by Raycom Media.