Criminal justice reforms gain momentum

Criminal justice reforms gain momentum

A broad cross-section of citizens, advocates and government officials have come to a shared conclusion: Louisiana must move away from being the world’s incarceration capital and begin investing in its returning citizens to promote both public safety and a thriving economy.

A broad cross-section of citizens, advocates and government officials have come to a shared conclusion: Louisiana must move away from being the world’s incarceration capital and begin investing in its returning citizens to promote both public safety and a thriving economy. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp reports that the Justice Reinvestment Task Force will release its final recommendations on March 16.

“Our criminal justice system needs major reformation,” (Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy) LeBlanc said. “It’s costing taxpayers a ton of money and not getting outcomes.”…Among the ideas that the task force generally agrees the state should implement, it’s calling for the expansion of alternatives to incarceration; revision of drug penalties to reserve long prison terms for high-level drug offenses; and modifying some justice financial obligations. Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue notes that the task force will include two sets of proposals: a series where the task force reached consensus, and others where there was some disagreement. One point of contention is how to adjust parole eligibility for those convicted of violent crimes.

Among those advocating for more parole eligibility for people convicted of violent crimes are those who oversee the prisons. Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc and Darrel Vannoy, the acting warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola,  said some prisoners currently serving life sentences should have a shot at parole. Several of the inmates — particularly ones who have spent decades at Angola — are not the same people as they were when they committed a crime and no longer pose a threat to society, Vannoy has said.


College campuses are crumbling

One of the consequences of Louisiana’s decade-long failure to fix its structural budget shortfalls is that small problems get ignored until they become big problems. Such is the case with deferred maintenance on college campuses. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive budget includes no money to address the growing backlog of repairs, which total more than $1 billion in the LSU System alone. Gannett’s Greg Hilburn pays a visit to some college campuses to see for himself what happens when maintenance gets ignored:

Leaky roofs, mold- and mildew-stained ceilings, threadbare carpet, pipes propped up by two-by-fours and parking lot potholes deep enough to rattle the shocks of a Humvee can be found from Louisiana Tech University to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, from Northwestern State to LSU-Shreveport and from the University of Louisiana at Monroe to Central Louisiana Technical Community College. Perhaps the most glaring example can be found at Grambling State, where President Rick Gallo said the university will be forced to abandon its dilapidated A.C. Lewis Memorial Library this spring and create an abridged version on a single floor of Charles P. Adams Hall. “Can you imagine a university without a library?” said Gallo, who said he will ask the state to build a new one.


Trade and Louisiana’s economy

Louisiana’s economy is closely tied to foreign trade, especially with Mexico. While anti-trade rhetoric flies at the federal level, Louisiana businesses continue to nurture this important relationship. Times-Picayune’s Richard Rainey reports:

Louisiana exported more products to Mexico than any other country save China, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The state shipped $5.82 billion in goods to Mexico in 2015. Similarly, Mexico is the seventh largest source of goods imported into Louisiana. More than $1.3 billion in goods traveled to the Pelican State in 2015, data show.

These trade ties are all the more important in the context of low economic vitality in New Orleans. A new report from the Washington-based Brookings Institution shows that the Crescent City continues to struggle to diversify its economy, leaving many struggling workers behind. Katherine Sayre has that story for Times-Picayune.

New Orleans ranked last among the nation’s 100 largest cities for economic prosperity between 2010 and 2015, when the metropolitan area experienced a decline in worker productivity, standard of living and average wages, according to a Brookings Institution report released Thursday (March 2). Meanwhile, the New Orleans-Metairie area ranked 69th for economic growth and 56th for economic inclusion, according to the annual study from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, a nonpartisan think tank. The report reveals that while recent years have brought big changes for New Orleans — unprecedented investment in new hotels and apartments, a big bump in home prices and growth in tourism — economic growth hasn’t been widely felt by locals.

New Orleans and Baton Rouge were among 23 metro areas that ranked below the national average in all three composite categories measured by the report – growth, prosperity and inclusion.


Where is the health care bill?

House GOP leaders are predicting that President Donald Trump is on board with their approach to health care and that they will pass a bill within the next four weeks. But as Dan Mangan and Bertha Coombs report for CNBC, the process has been shrouded in secrecy.

Republican leaders of the House of Representatives were under fire Thursday for hiding their Obamacare replacement proposal “under lock and key” in a basement in Congress. Irritated by the secrecy, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and others called on the GOP to expose the bill to the public, so that it could be analyzed.

Based on drafts that have been leaked, one proposal under review includes tax credits that are not adjusted by income, and would make health coverage less affordable for low- and moderate-income Americans. Another draft would phase out the Medicaid expansion that has provided coverage for over 405,000 Louisianans.


Number of the Day

60 – Percent of Louisianans who would receive a net tax cut if major recommendations presented in a recent LBP report are adopted (Source: Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy via LBP)