Louisiana governor talks criminal justice reform

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Louisiana's recent re-vamping of crime laws is front and center on Capitol Hill today. Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards went to Washington, D.C. and shared his deep conviction to lower Louisiana's high incarceration rates.

While in town, he received sharp criticism from GOP Senator John Kennedy.

“We are convinced we are on a much better path forward than we were on for the last four decades," said Edwards.

Louisiana's Governor took part in a panel discussion Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol on his state's recent comprehensive criminal justice reform.

Just this year, the Democratic governor worked with a Republican-majority legislature to pass a series of bills in an effort to lower prison populations.

"We were not getting return on our investment in Louisiana, spending more than 700 million dollars a year on corrections but still having the highest incarceration rate in the nation," said Edwards.

This year, Louisiana agreed to expand probation and parole opportunities, cut sentences for non-violent offenders and enhance resources for inmates to transition back into their communities.
One sheriff on the panel praised Edwards for his work.

"Without his unwavering support and leadership, this issue would never have seen the light of day," said Sheriff Craig Webre of Lafourche Parish.

The governor and other Louisiana officials who spoke Tuesday say this reform package is a major step forward in addressing criminal justice issues. But Senator Kennedy says the changes are disastrous to public safety.

“It lets a bunch of criminals go in order to try to save money," said Kennedy.

Kennedy says even though these efforts cleared the legislature with bi-partisan support, he sees problems.

"They’ve already let 1,900 of them go. There’s been story after story after story where a bunch of them already committed crimes in the first week," said Kennedy.

Kennedy pointed to Tyrone “Smokey” White, who within five days of being released this month, was arrested on armed robbery charges.

“We’ve got 35,000 prisoners in Louisiana. They didn’t get there for going to Sunday school. They got there for committing crimes, for hurting people," said Kennedy.

Louisiana officials worked with Pew Charitable Trust, a public policy firm, and looked to other states in updating the laws.

The Governor's office says they look forward to more collaboration with other states to keep the momentum up on this issue.

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