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Expanded parole for cost sake endangers lives

In the rush to make Louisiana’s correctional policy more efficient, policy-makers cannot forget the larger goal of preventing crime. How the state’s latest reform recommendations address parole of those with lengthy prison sentences illustrates the tension between these two desires.

The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force’s conclusions, formulated after over a year of study, largely have met with stakeholder approval. The only real controversy has come over a set of recommendations that would make lifers eligible for parole after serving 30 years in prison and reaching age 50, unless they were convicted of first-degree murder, and also recommending those serving long but less-than-life sentences gain parole eligibility after 20 years in prison and reaching age 45.

Proponents of these changes – Louisiana joins Mississippi as the only states denying such eligibility to those convicted of second-degree murder – argue that older prisoners exhibit far lower recidivism rates than the younger prison population. They also note that eligibility does not automatically means release; in fact, only a small portion of inmates granted parole come through the discretionary process where the subject must demonstrate contrition, good character, and ability to live outside the walls that may include having a support system in place.


Strengthen, don't weaken, laws against felons voting

Contrary to the sentiments of a state judge, if anything Louisiana needs to make more stringent its jurisprudence addressing the ability of felons to vote.

Last week, 19th District Court Judge Tim Kelley reluctantly upheld a state law that prohibits felons from registering to vote so long as, according to Art. I Sec. 10 of the Constitution, they remain “under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony.” The subsequent law clarified this to include people under probation and on parole, as technically they may return to prison if they violate any conditions attached to these.

Kelley reaffirmed, yet expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs challenging the law who called it unfair. But, in fact, the law serves a vital purpose as both a deterrent to crime and a means to improve the quality of decision-making in a democracy.


Edwards follows pattern with state debt downgrade

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Louisiana has endured adverse credit rating changes since Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards assumed office, completing a downgrade trifecta last week.

Over a year after Moody’s Investors Service started the trend – just over a month after Edwards took office and had led the Legislature into special session to deal with fiscal issues – followed by Fitch Ratings months later, S&P Ratings completed the sweep of lowering the state’s credit rating. Additionally, Moody’s reaffirmed its negative outlook, meaning it anticipated more likely a downgrade to come in the future than the rating maintaining, which at present makes Louisiana one of the lowest rated states in the nation. Ratings assess the overall fiscal health of an entity, where the healthier a government’s finances, the lower interest rate lenders demand.

Moody’s commentary explicates well Louisiana’s underperformance. Last year, it noted reasons for the downgrade as “rapidly deteriorating revenue collections due in part to the continuing low oil price environment, a looming fiscal 2017 gap that could be as large as 20% of general fund revenues, and the effects of years of structural imbalance on the state's reserves and liquidity.” The negative outlook then came from “the state's continued budgetary risks and the likelihood that movement toward structural balance is likely to take time … also … revenue forecasting risks, Medicaid cost containment implementation risks, and uncertainty over attainability of budget balancing initiatives.”


Confirmed: broken LA recall rules need repair

If we needed any more confirmation about the necessity of changing Louisiana’s recall law, it came with the surrender of a high-profile campaign against Jefferson Parish Pres. Mike Yenni.

In 2016, not long after his election, news reached the public consciousness that Yenni had engaged in inappropriate exchanges with a male minor willing to go on the record that prompted Yenni to deliver a vague apology. Subsequently, both parish and Catholic schools banned his appearance on their properties. The Parish Council also asked formally for his resignation.

This led to a spirited attempt at a recall petition against Yenni, requiring signatures of a third of qualified electors in the parish within six months of registering the attempt. However, last week organizers admitted failure with the deadline fast approaching, apparently well short of the roughly 90,000 signers needed.