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WWL>Topics>>2-13-14 1:10pm Angela: on Louisiana's incarceration rate

2-13-14 1:10pm Angela: on Louisiana's incarceration rate

Feb 13, 2014|

Angela discusses Louisiana's incarceration rate with Marjorie Esman of the ACLU and Kevin Kane of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Oh what a difference 24 hours makes. Big big day yesterday big game that really the history of the city. But the sun has come out today and more we're moving on and we're gonna have three very interesting programs on. Very excited about this first hour these people were supposed to been on yesterday -- kind enough to reschedule after the negative verdict came down. But we're going to be talking about our prison system. In our next hour we're going to be talking with Galen Tom Benson. And in our third hour and it continues on McCain remember record hours or not it's what you know what it is something I've wanted to talk about since day one. I am thrilled that Harold Williams our tax assessor is going to join us for the whole hour so if you have any questions or thoughts on your property taxes. Please give us a call. But we began. What could possibly getting it right it's an organization like the pelican institute for public policy. And the ACL you to join hands and minds for the same cars. A cause we all need to be discussing reforming the State's criminal justice system. We have heard it over and over the cuisine and incarcerate more people than any other place on this earth. How is this possible. Do we really have more criminals than the rest of the world. And what is it costing us as taxpayers. And more importantly what is it doing to criminalize people who have broken nonviolent laws. Let's talk about it with the two people who are traveling the state to discuss reform. Marjorie Cashman executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. And Kevin Kane president of the pelican institute for public policy and I do appreciate both of you coming -- and thank you and you know it's and I know you like on the road. -- giving these important. Forums -- discussions and -- gonna get to that as well but. Let's let's talk about what brought you together. I you know it was really it just a very natural. On meeting of the minds. Because this issue is. Not a partisan issue and of course the ACLU is not a partisan organization but. But this is not partisan issue it's not or a right left or center issue it is. -- -- a fundamental not only fundamental fairness issue but also. An issue that has to do with. Really the best way that we want to spend our money and achieve good results. And and silly it's 88. It's really a very natural partnership I think. Yeah no I you know I kind of became aware of the issue. Over incarceration several years ago when I was a conference in Washington DC. -- -- people from different think tanks around the country discussing different issues that we're working on. And had a panel on this issue criminal justice reform and I was kind of surprised because that really isn't an issue that. Right of center organizations had been talking very much about. In recent years. And so I sat through -- listen in and found it very interesting in and actually the focus was on. What what our neighbors Texas had done in recent years and they had to. Economy -- a Republican led effort had brought down incarceration rates save a lot of money while keeping crime rates -- Shortly after that IE became aware of the fact that we easier at the highest incarceration rate in the nation. And so it seemed natural. To sort of looking into that and find what solutions we might. Animal might make sense him. And frankly I don't care where somebody is in the political spectrum that we agree. I'm with some of those solutions on him that we were together we get to the point where we incarcerate them most. I mean I think there are. A number of things behind that. Many of which are probably you know have little to do public policy social issues. I mean we have the lower mean you look at Louisiana world we sort of at the bottom of the -- list. High education rate in Seoul on poverty rates -- And and so I mean the things that we struggle -- Tend to go hand in hand with higher incarceration rates and so and and the causes for that are obviously very complicated. But one of the drivers that we certainly can address on our sentencing laws which are very tough. And you know there was a national friend in the eighty's and ninety's in particular. Two. Increase. Sentences specially for drug related crimes. And and a number of states have taken steps to the change that over the years. But did in Louisiana we we really do have particularly tough mandatory minimums and those sorts of things and that's definitely a fuel this problem. I don't I -- Just wanna follow up something Kevin said. Which is when he he says that you know we have we have a lot of socio economic problems in the -- which of course we do we have a lot of poverty. But to some extent. The incarceration rate and the poverty rate go hand in hand. Not just for the obvious reasons that people who are poor. And can't you know IOC you can't make a living legally willing you're gonna make one illegally because everybody can eat. But the other thing is that the way our criminal justice system is set up. It. It perpetuates itself that it it. For many people it creates this vicious circle of poverty leads to incarceration leads to poverty leads to incarceration leads to poverty -- incarceration. And that's -- cycle that that we need to break and we can break but we need. We need as a society to recognize that that is part of the problem and have the willingness to address. But that is I think I think there's two feet one another. In a way that has. Brought us this this horrible distinction of being the world's leading cars. Several years ago I did a series in Angola and I was driving in the truck with Burl Cain do you have the warden. And I asked him you know could -- been 8000 you know why why is -- so high and he felt it was because. In a period of time maybe the eighties and people were very concerned about crime. But it was almost an over enthusiasm on the part of legislators. To say well we can fix it with this. And not realizing that this is costing us. That's right and in an end as Kevin said there wasn't national movement towards. Sort of you know maybe ten good in theory that maybe if we increase sentences it will be more of a deterrent. People won't do things anymore but particularly weak with drug offenses and kind of nonviolent. -- quality of life sentence. What we've seen is that that hasn't. Worked it hasn't hand. The affected people perhaps. At one time thought that it would. And so now we have is people who have been sentenced to. Really disproportionately long periods of time for something that objectively. -- you know the punt the punishment doesn't. Fit the crime but people are serving these sentences because that's what they got and the laws on the books and we needs we need to fix that because it's not having the result it was intended. Yet to be there is a very natural tendency humbled. Our elected officials. To. Sort of take the lead in addressing problems or concerns that people haven't and that's. That's not a bad thing of course. And so we in the 70s80s and into the ninety's when there had been in this. Rising crime and people were legitimately concerned about that as we all our. I just think there's a tendency sometimes for the pendulum to swing you know to foreign one direction or the other. You know week -- -- they -- a point now. We can go back and look at some of the laws that were passed. Over the past twenty years or so and really figure around you know what. What works and what doesn't and and -- in the realm of criminal justice are definitely. Some some very tough laws that I think need to be amended -- -- the area of giving judges. Some ability to use their judgment. Okay please stay with -- everyone. This is a very important conversation and one I think we're going to be hearing about the monster com if you have any thoughts on this if if you think -- jailing too many or. Not enough give us a call 260187. -- and we'll be right back I'm Angela under the W. We are joined by Marjorie -- of the ACLU and Kevin Kane. Of the pelican institute and they are two people on a mission to make us look at our round out our judicial system and and not really our prison system. The fact that we continue to incarcerate more than anyplace else in this country and perhaps beyond. Looking at why and what we can do to change that we got a few callers let's go to them first -- in Jefferson. It is -- question Angel. All my national. -- you -- on doing just. Like you've been Angola in the park problem. If you start a pill taking people. Think our -- and it's gonna take part in a -- industry Iran where. And rehabilitation. Of the visit you know. -- current crop -- start to our success -- dollars. And to put our program in there and juvenile detention senators you know certain that there. They'll -- you can't even get in the car back up. I think in that you know that's our problem right there can be -- new car. And they're being built in their development and -- and -- a lot of money there just aren't. -- this is literally something we were just talking about the commercial I one I appreciate your call it's great hearing your voice. And never hesitate to call but let me let them address exactly which -- -- -- Go first because I'll I'll because I want him to file whom he -- You are right. Then our system has created some perverse incentive. There's no question about that -- no question that the way our system is funded. Does create. You know sort of a money machine. But that's something we could fix also that's part of the problem -- needs to be part of the solution. And they are several ideas floating around to do that some of which. Had to do with turning. Facilities in two rehabilitation centers in two training programs. For people who need jobs skills so. There are there are some ideas out there -- two help with that but you're right that is built into the system it's part of the problem. Rubble we you know we saw. Here in Louisiana was our our -- prison population. -- basically doubled in about a twenty year period from the early nineties we went from about about 20000 to about 40000. And -- you rather than. The state building new prisons. They worked out an arrangement where a number of the state prisoners would be held in local facilities punish Iran by the sheriff's. And so now we have about half of the state prisoners held in these local facilities around the state the first thing I wanna say is that. The sheriff's haven't done anything wrong I mean -- did what they were asked to do and they're performing a service by housing these people. But it's certainly the case that you because they get the per Diem money that comes with the people that housing that. You'd be doing some. Cases -- we're effectively we are incentivizing them in and if they've built new facilities. Under the assumption that there's going to be certain amount of revenue coming from the state each year. And they've hired a certain number of people. I mean they already typical position we didn't Lucy you say -- it's incentivized in the wrong way so we do need to look at that and I think you know. There are they're probably always weakened. Basically just use that money for other things alternatives to incarceration. And put those under the control of the sheriff's of the DA's in and that way. If they can remain more or less hole financially but we're just using that money for something better than incarceration. There's a whole movement. It's is basically -- reinvestment just three investment. And what that addresses is that with the money that society could say. By a making sense is more realistic and not keeping people locked up when they don't need to be. That money or at least a large portion of that money could and should be reinvested. In the justice system to do precisely these things to provide job training skills so that people could -- living in a legal way. Provide. You know education provide rehabilitation. You know drug counseling all of these services. It right now people don't get or if they get them it's only because they're incarcerated and -- if the money. Were reinvested. In the system it would then have long term benefits that would far exceed just the short term cost. You know. -- be remiss if I didn't say that was presented with Merrill Cain was the incredible programming has remember most the people in Angola never get out. So they're the most of them are lifers but the few who do he has this great program. Of auto mechanic where you learn and then you have to pass a national test. The man who was teaching -- was a lifer he ultimately got pardoned -- he'd been -- thirty years. Brilliant. Is now working in Lafayette making tiny grand. I mean it it does work. Play and one of the unfortunate that things is that. State prisons like Angola actually have a much better education and training options in many cases. Then these local prisons do. It's -- somebody who might be going to a local prison for five years may not get any meaningful education -- training and they come out and you know -- we get back into trouble. Where someone in Angola was never getting out may learn all they are valuable set of skills that they'll never be able to use. You know something when we need to touch on in May have to take a break first let me go to Jane Jane. But in Tarrytown. Yes and are part and economic deer are the type -- -- that you bring to the attention of the public. And I'm -- I work with the in my project. -- that faith based organization miles from minister and remembering Baptist Church. And we are a working on it and from NIC. It basically meant. Mentality. Lull that -- on the books. And we realized that we making products in the prison. -- big company. So they have to keep the prison population. Yeah I mean in Britain. Our street like it Italy played Matt. Mentality is how we questioning these models and reckon that the fact that. It it's a money making it. What is the -- project. They picked up by may organizations throughout New Orleans. On the -- -- come together and hot hot you know and we discussed the bank and this is one of the issues that we were discussed -- this week. Could -- economy. Well in we of course. -- the Michael project. -- and I both have have worked closely and will continue to work closely with the Michael leaders and thank you for the very good work -- the UN and that organization and do. You are correct that there is any enormous racial disparity. In the people who are actually serving time in Louisiana. All of the studies show that African Americans. Get. Harsher sentences longer sentences for similar offenses are arrested at higher rates then then. Like people for the same behavior. So there's no question that part of the problem is that we do have -- disparities. In our criminal justice system and those disparities need to be addressed and that's. In in some -- it's part and parcel of course of of this whole. Problem with the justice system but it's separate. Because we could have a system that was completely. Colorblind. And and race neutral. And still have sentences that are far too long and far too harsh. We're going to have to take a break I really appreciate you calling in Jane very much stay with us. Everybody else to give any comments don't hesitate to call -- we're going to the newsroom now and Dave calling. We are talking about our incarceration rate in the state Louisiana which is the highest in the United States. And what is it really costing us and perhaps we need to be addressing who we are sending to jail. With this is Marjorie Aspen with the ACLU and Kevin Kane with the pelican institute and they along with others are going around the state giving forums. Trying to get this these thoughts out to the public. And done and doing a great job you have another one coming up in Baton Rouge which will talk about. But it's how do we balance really. The fact that if people break the law there should be punishment. But at the same time not have this huge industry are complex that the taxpayers paying for. Should non violent people go to prison. Or is there another form of something -- wanna bring up before we go forward though is we've done a couple of shows on. The number in the percentages of mentally ill people who end up in jail and and it is we have and they are the mental hospitals in some regards. That no longer exist roaming outside and that's a tragedy on many levels. But certainly for the person involved as society work we're not addressing something that needs to be addressed and Marjorie you certainly. But that is part of the cost. No absolutely and it and add one other one of the reasons this topic. Makes for such interesting conversation. Is that you end up touching upon so many different things -- me. Caller earlier alluded due to race for example on and frankly I don't agree. We've all of the arguments that are made about that and what the motivations are different. People involved in this. But it's still something that's happened to profound issue that that needs to be discussed when you talk about this. And and -- you've just touched on an -- mental illness and how home. You know how different changes to policy. Over the decades have affected that and has he says I mean our jails have become our de facto mental institutions. And that's I mean that's a great tragedy. And so I mean. You know we're talking about a more or working on a more sort of narrow slice of this issue the sentencing laws. But it. Our policy or approach to treating people -- mental illnesses is you know is something that we need to focus on. We need to focus on but they they are plopped into prisons and -- were really looking at paring down prisons. It has to be with the acknowledgment of we are still going to have mentally ill people and what do we do. What we do as a society you're not here to discuss that but insists that's a huge topic for it is a whole other show. Now it really it's you are going to be in Baton Rouge and I actually wrote Daniel and in Baton Rouge for all of our Baton Rouge listeners. You will want to hear this and it's going to be at the Shiloh Baptist Church. Next Monday at 165 Eddie Robinson drive at 7 o'clock it's free and I know the the the other places you've gone it's like standing room only. People want to discuss this so what are you hearing from them. Well I mean these these these events have been really. Fascinating. For the reasons I just mentioned that. You just end up talking about such a wide range of important issues and it's such a mean. The the administration of justice is sort of fundamental. Question. You know the role of government and how we are going to live with each other and and and so you end up talking about all sorts of interest in things that we get. Such a diverse audience at these things including people. Who've been incarcerated. And wanna talk about their experience but I've never I mean we've done events on all sorts of issues and Marjorie would probably agree with -- -- job. You see more raw emotion and passion from people who come to these things and then I've seen at any other sort of event I've participated. I absolutely agree with. Them -- end. Extremely. Informative. Helpful. And and there's a lot of profound emotion can instant particularly when people have you know personal experiences that that they want to share with others and and some very good ideas have come out of of this I mean you know people out there have to have good ideas and it's useful to -- and sort of where it has to go though it has to end up. In our legislature. If laws are going to be changed so it's you're trying to get them to. Come forward and an inflated their elected officials look we need to address this it's not always a popular discussion. But it's one that we need to do is taxpayers and most of these forms we have had elected officials on the panel with us including this Monday in that rouge we'll have representative Tom -- from van rouge and Senator McCain later results from which. And and that's you know that lands a whole other level to this discussion of these -- -- -- here. With their constituents have to say -- constituents get to hear what they have to say and it. Really makes for. A dialogue that I -- Can and will lead to some meaningful change not necessarily you know all this one legislative session it's not gonna happen in one year. But over time as people continue to have these conversations I think we will -- and meaningful change. What are some of the thoughts that you all have or have heard. Not that would be a reasonable. Thing that if somebody breaks a law and we have laws for reasons so somebody breaks a law there should be punishment. It's where do we draw the line for the commitment of sending someone to prison. Nonviolent. That's a different Palin like the violent but for the nonviolent. And doing home incarceration or doing something else but still saying to society we're not gonna tolerate lawbreakers. Well none of. This is about tolerating long break I mean you know at that needs to be said right up front nobody's suggesting that. You know people should be able to break the law without consequence. It just and it's in this society we get to decide. What the laws are and what constitutes breaking and we also get to decide what the punishment is for breaking and for instance right now under existing. Scheme in Louisiana. A third. Conviction for marijuana possession simple possession he can get up to a twenty year prison sentence. Drive by shooting. The maximum sentence is five years. Now that doesn't makes cents and clearly nobody really set down to think about the relative harm. Somebody who's you know commits a drive by shooting for since somebody who is caught for a third time at the moment now -- for personal use. The most of the conversations that need to be. And that doesn't mean if you break the law he should get away with it it doesn't mean it is society we have to the side. What we think he's the appropriate punishment for any particular infraction. We need to address that drive by shooting. -- -- quickly. When there -- couple of it's encouraging things that I think -- Worth pointing out important for people who know one of which is that there is a sentencing commission. Here in Louisiana. That meets every month. And they do very good work in terms of looking at our our laws are sentencing laws are. Restrictions on parole. Reentry rules all sorts of things and it's a group of people and includes judges not prosecutors. Sheriffs and it's a it's a very diverse group all people who -- Have a role to play in this process. And so proposals go through the sentencing commission. They go to the governor. On the governor indicates that there are things that come out of there that he will support. And then legislation can be created and so -- kind of following the works of the sentencing commission. And I think they're probably a number of bills that will commander there would be very positive very worth a worthy of support. In this legislative session. The other positive development. The exact and number of people in the business community around the state have engaged in this issue and they recognized that this is a problem that. I mean it's certainly you know. Just a moral problem to have so many people incarcerated when many of them don't really pose a threat. But even just the economic summit the and hundreds of millions of dollars we're spending. On incarceration is ultimately money that could be put to better use -- and so there -- number of people in the business community who have committed. Two to supporting some sensible reforms. And -- so again I think that speaks to the sort of the to what a broad coalition for reform we have right now. Stay with -- we have much more to talk about we'll be right back -- -- on WW well. Again we've been talking with them Marjorie adjustment and Kevin -- about the issue of Bobby incarcerate too many people and yes we have to have -- change about sentencing. But also. How do we get people who are in prison out of prison and they don't go back to prison. And the bottom line it always is -- they have to be trained they they have to have a skill that is marketable. To go on so that they don't break the law again. And I'm simplifying things but that's. Sure yeah absolutely and you know what's kind of -- about. The situation in Louisiana is that we're as you know we're facing. -- long term labor shortage yes so you think and Chris most of these offenders tend to be young man. And who do you know. Could -- presumably. That help address that problem and that's you know one of the things we're looking at two for example in Texas last year they passed a law. -- that just makes it harder to sue. Businesses that have hired ex offenders. Com and I think that's something that would make sense here in just. Maybe give one less reason for. Employers not to hire. An ex offender we also have in some cases now -- we will get out of jail and they you know they don't have access to certain occupational licenses. So for example maybe they're not eligible to get the Barber's license well. -- that make any sense and obviously there's certain licenses that certain types of offenders shouldn't yet there's certain offenders you don't want running daycare center. But in many cases these are you have many of these occupational licenses are nothing but you know keeping up the competition. And now. So one of the things we wanted to do was look for opportunities to just make it easier for people who were getting out to reenter the workforce because I mean that's it's absolutely critical that people do that. Well again we are going to have this work force we have now and with the the industries that are coming in on in the next several years. Couldn't they'd target the needs of those businesses. And then. In the jails say we need to set up some programs and of the Delgado and other schools are doing incredible work trying to Anthony's. And perhaps that's a bit of luck coming your body and you play act. They absolutely can and should and they should be constant reevaluation. So that whatever as needs change that training programs change but. As Kevin said there also -- to -- -- -- we make sure that those folks who are trained can actually get those jobs because. No matter how well trained you line how Smart and company knew -- -- if nobody will hire you Internet is not good. So we need to to have both of those things simultaneously get people trained for the jobs that are out there and nature than employers will hire. And yet they're offering is no relationship is is Kevin said between the things that people are not permitted to do. And whatever whatever offense they may have committed and we need to make sure that those barriers. Don't prevent people from being productive. People when Nate when they get out because you know most of them will get out and we want to make sure that they can. Be successful and productive and ultimately pay taxes. And support their families. And we don't want barriers to that because then that does feed back into recidivism and and it then becomes a vicious circle. And it is though convincing employers. To take a chance and then as you say have laws in place that will help them. Collapsed absolutely and the unit with the state needs to have the capacity. You know to beef up its whether it's parole programs or training program -- at some of the local. Jails that that lack. Some of these training and education. Opportunities so so I think the -- -- Marjorie. Alluded to I think some of the there -- mean they're going to be cost savings associated with some of these reforms. It's figuring out the right way to figure out what figure out what those cost savings aren't and how to use some of those. Two to -- up some of those programs. Are you hopeful that this is gonna work. Oh with I don't think we can do this if we were hopeful -- work. You know we we've invested a lot of time in energy incidents. And and I think we both know. Then it's gonna work it's not gonna happen overnight that happened in one year or two or maybe even five although I think at the end of five years we will see some results. But of course it's -- And I don't think you know mean of course no. How do you measure success it's -- -- can be tricky and as I said before their there's so many other. I think. Challenges we face here in Louisiana and around the country. That. That we're going to be facing I think for a long time but. You know we should do these we should address some of these issues we should make some of these changed because it's the right thing to do period. And maybe they'll have a tremendous affect real soon maybe this effect will be smaller spread out over longer time but. It was the right thing that we should do. I wanna thank both of you for coming on what you just staying in touch with this -- this is a dialogue that needs to continue but I appreciate both of you being here thank you we'll be right back. You know that's a very interesting topic about our prison system and the things that we need to address about one -- Marjorie assessment from the ACLU and Kevin -- from the pelican institute. And we promised to do more stories on that kind I hope you're gonna stick with this because the next hour two very special people Tom and Gayle Benson. What can we say how much they've already given us stay with this -- but now mom. I think we're getting ready for that newsroom we have Chris Miller and there. And even though it was busy yesterday it's always a -- Newsday in New Orleans so stay with its.

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