Governor divies money from criminal justice reform savings

Governor divies money from criminal justice reform savings

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Millions of dollars are going toward offender re-entry programs, and the governor says it’s all thanks to savings from criminal justice reform. But some say the money should have been divided a little differently.

“This was the most serious issue that drew bipartisan support,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Edwards is talking criminal justice reform. More than a year after the Legislature passed laws to reduce the prison population by releasing nonviolent offenders, he’s touting progress.

“I can stand here before you today as governor of the state of the Louisiana for the first time in decades and tell you that your state, our state, does not have a nation’s highest incarceration rate,” said Edwards.

We’re now number two behind Oklahoma, with 3,000 fewer people behind bars than last year.

“If you want to impact crime in Louisiana in a positive way, you invest money in the re-entry program. You have more successful re-entrys, less unsuccessful and that’s what this is about,” explained the governor.

Edwards announced five parishes that will receive money for offender re-entry assistance programs with the first year of savings, including St. Tammany, Jefferson and Orleans. Programs within the public defenders office, Goodwill and Catholic Charities are all getting money.

The savings amounts to $12 million. 70-percent of that will be reinvested.

"You probably should have made sure things were in place before we let them out and that's been the biggest criticism of the reform," said Dillard University Criminal Justice Program Director Dr. Ashraf Esmail.

"There was no housing available," said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. "There were no opportunities for job training and job placement. There were no halfway houses."

Cannizzaro says he applauds the governor for taking a lead but says he would have liked to have seen offenders released after programs were established. Plus, he believes more money should have gone to victims.

"I was hoping to see some funding made available to the district attorney's offices throughout the state for the victims and witnesses programs we have," Cannizzaro said.

The governor says he is doing more for victims, allocating almost a million and a half dollars for services.

"That's very, very little compared to what we see around the country being allocated," explained Esmail.

Esmail says victims often get lost in the shuffle. While he doesn't contend these entities need money, he believes the DA has a point.

"We need to put more money in education, the court system, crisis intervention, public education and assisting these victims in terms of moving on," Esmail said.

“And in all fairness to the Governor, I understand this is an initial step. This is the first stage, we are in the preliminary stages of this and I am hopeful that in subsequent allocations, The DA’s offices are considered and the victims and witnesses are very much taken into account,” said Cannizzaro.

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