Kennedy trashes Louisiana criminal justice revamp to Trump

August 8, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy attacked Louisiana’s criminal justice overhaul in a letter Wednesday to President Donald Trump that comes with pointed timing, sent one day ahead of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ meeting with the president.

Edwards, a Democrat, is one of several governors invited to sit down Thursday with the president in New Jersey to talk about criminal sentencing law changes, one of Edwards’ key initiatives since taking office and a push also being considered in Congress.

In his letter, Kennedy, a Republican mulling a run against Edwards in 2019, says the changes are “failing the law-abiding public in Louisiana” and jeopardizing public safety. He wrote to Trump that Louisiana should be considered a “cautionary tale,” citing re-arrests of many prisoners released early, including two who have been arrested on murder charges.

“Unfortunate as it is, Mr. President, I hope Louisiana’s misguided attempt at criminal justice reform can prevent similar missteps,” Kennedy wrote.

Edwards’ office said Kennedy is using incorrect data in the letter, trying to score political points while unnecessarily scaring the public.

“This information by the junior senator is unequivocally wrong. He has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good headline and routinely manipulates information to fit his narrative,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.

Louisiana lawmakers last year expanded probation and parole opportunities and reduced sentences, mainly for nonviolent offenders. Most of the savings from the prison population reduction must now pay for programs aimed at keeping exiting inmates from returning to crime. Since the changes were enacted, Louisiana relinquished its title as the nation’s tops jailer, dropping to the state with the second-highest incarceration rate per capita.

The criminal justice redesign was a bipartisan effort modeled after similar work in other Southern states, with support across a wide ideological spectrum, from Christian conservatives, business leaders and liberal organizations.

But while some district attorneys and sheriffs worked on the law changes, others remain publicly skeptical. Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry, another possible GOP opponent for Edwards in the governor’s race, have repeatedly slammed the early release of prisoners.

“If the governor wants to continue letting these guys go, I think we’re going to have more murders. And it doesn’t give me any pleasure to say that,” the senator said, speaking to reporters about the letter.

“I do want the president to know the full story,” Kennedy said. “I suspect that when Gov. Edwards meets with him or whoever he meets with at the White House, he’s not going to tell him about the murders.”

Kennedy cites recidivism figures used by some district attorneys, that 22 percent of prisoners released early in November have been rearrested for crimes. The district attorneys, however, haven’t offered data backing up that statistic, and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the figure is inflated.

LeBlanc said of 1,952 inmates released on Nov. 1, 232 of them — or 12 percent — have been detained for other non-misdemeanor crimes or have had their probation revoked for violations. He said that tracks with a 15 percent recidivism rate Louisiana had before the law changes.

LeBlanc acknowledged two of the inmates released early have been arrested for murder. One of them, he said, would have been out of prison when he was re-arrested under the old laws. Many inmates were released 30 to 90 days earlier than they would have been previously.


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