Oct. 6: Habitual offender law use varies by region

Oct. 6: Habitual offender law use varies by region

Three Louisiana district attorneys - all from the New Orleans metro area - used the state’s stringent habitual offender laws frequently last year.

Three Louisiana district attorneys – all from the New Orleans metro area – used the state’s stringent habitual offender laws frequently last year. A recent Legislative Auditor’s report recommended rolling back the habitual offender statutes for non-violent offenders after finding that D.A.’s used them for non-violent offenders 78 percent of the time. The issue will likely be considered by the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a criminal justice reform effort led by the Department of Corrections in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Advocate’s John Simerman has the story:   

An earlier Pew report found that Louisiana imprisons people on convictions for nonviolent offenses at a vastly higher rate than other states in the region with similar crime rates — a key finding that figures to loom large in reform discussions. Last month, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office found a similar trend with the habitual-offender law, reporting that 78 percent of habitual-offender convictions were for nonviolent offenses, though some of those inmates may have had prior convictions for violent crimes or may have pleaded guilty to lesser crimes to avoid trial on violent offenses. Purpera’s office suggested narrowing the statute to limit its use on nonviolent offenders.


Work assistance should take long-term view

One Minnesota county is thinking holistically about how to help struggling people find and keep good jobs. In Ramsey County, caseworkers help clients develop plans with short and long-term goals that account for the particular needs and stresses of their situation. J.B. Wogan features the efforts of Kate Probert’s team in Governing magazine.

Under Probert, the county is also trying to address the common barriers that prevent welfare recipients from keeping a job. In some cases, those barriers are logistical, such as finding child care and reliable transportation. But her staff has become interested in another potential barrier: how the brain processes information, or fails to. Many people on public assistance have spent years in poverty, where their immediate concerns are whether they can afford next month’s rent or heating bill. Some research suggests that those kind of high-stress environments can short-circuit coping and organizational skills that contribute to a person’s success in the workplace. So job counselors in Ramsey County are providing their clients with tips to reduce stress.

Here in Louisiana, the state only spends 1 percent of its welfare dollars on programs that help people find and keep a good job. Despite having one of the highest poverty rates in the country, only 725 Louisiana families received employment assistance in 2015 using federal TANF funds, a 72 percent decrease since 2006.


High U.S. inequality due to policy choices

Despite recent progress in curbing inequality in the United States, the long-term trend is still one of widening inequality since the 1970’s. Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs writes about the reasons for U.S. inequality for The Boston Globe.

There are three main factors at play: technology, trade, and politics. Technological innovations have raised the demand for highly trained workers, thereby pushing up the incomes of college-educated workers relative to high-school-educated workers. Global trade has exposed the wages of industrial workers to tough international competition from workers at much lower pay scales. And our federal politics has tended, during the past 35 years, to weaken the political role of the working class, diminish union bargaining power, and cap or cut the government benefits received by working-class families.

When compared to other advanced countries, the United States lags far behind due to our policy decisions.

How does Denmark end up with so much lower inequality of disposable income from its budget policies? Denmark taxes more heavily than the United States and uses the greater tax revenue to provide free health care, child care, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, guaranteed vacations, free university tuition, early childhood programs, and much more. Denmark taxes a hefty 51 percent of national income and provides a robust range of high-quality public services. The United States taxes a far lower 31 percent and offers a rickety social safety net. In the United States, people are left to sink or swim. Many sink.

As for Louisiana, we have the 4th highest rate of inequality of the 50 states and DC.


A progressive approach to trade and globalization

Globalization and international trade have taken center stage in the presidential election. Jared Bernstein and Lori Wallach write for American Prospect about the difference between trade and trade agreements, arguing that globalization can’t (and shouldn’t) be stopped, but that some “rules of the road” can help everyone benefit from trade.

Global commerce absent a floor of enforceable international labor and environmental standards can produce a race to the bottom between nations in wages, working conditions, and environmental and health safeguards. Globally accepted labor and environmental standards exist, but they lack effective enforcement. An efficient way to address this problem is to change the sequencing of FTAs (free trade agreements) in this space: Instead of enacting FTAs with a future commitment to enforce labor and environmental standards, any benefits to partner countries in terms of market access must be conditioned on confirmation that labor and environmental rights are not only provided on paper through changes to those countries’ laws, but are being enforced with real changes on the ground before the FTA takes effect, with benefits being halted if conditions deteriorate.


Number of the Day

30,754 – Number of workers living in the New Orleans metro area and working in the Baton Rouge metro area in 2014. (Source: The Data Center)