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The Price of Justice: Where to Begin?

Mark Carroll

What does the “world’s highest incarceration rate” really mean?

“It feels oftentimes that as DAs and judges we are flipping hamburgers because the volume that we have,” says East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.

It also means that more than 5 out of every 10-thousand residents are in jail, at a cost of $600-million per year. And it means Louisiana desperately needs major criminal justice reform.

“Taxpayers are paying while we’re not necessarily getting the public safety,” says Flozell Daniels, CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana.

Next month, lawmakers will look at many possible changes to the state’s criminal justice system -- but where to begin?

State Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc suggests starting by paroling those too old or ill to be a danger to the public any longer.

“Ten a month are dying at Angola -- of old age,” LeBlanc says. “I mean, when I see them laying in a bed in a fetal position, to me their life has ended.”

St. John Parish District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut wants to see more focus on the other end of the age spectrum.

“It is Frederick Douglass that said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men’,” Dinvault explains. “If our future is with our children, then we have to find a way to intervene and keep them out of the adult criminal justice system.”

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre says a lack of mental health options lands many who are simply ill -- rather than criminal -- in jail.

“I’ve never arrested a person for having a broken leg or because they have diabetes,” Webre says. “But every day we incarcerate people who are bi-polar or schizophrenic.”

Amongst all that there’s also the recidivism rate, which varies from 30 to 60 percent statewide.

“We have these ‘churners’,” LeBlanc admits. “It’s the same people in and out, and what we have to do is invest in that to prevent that.”

And the hope is that any savings realized from changes will be reinvested in programs to keep residents out of jail.  

Tomorrow we’ll hear about one of those programs.