Week One wrapped this Friday and we have thoughts…
This Governor and Legislature is reminiscent of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and their legislature in the days after October 7. There is a complete disregard for history and circumstances that precipitated the situation, and comprehensive problem solving has been replaced with blind rage and a violent counterattack. This session is about crime “reaction,” and nothing about crime “prevention.”
Consider the bills, actions, and statements in totality:
New Orleans will be occupied by a second layer of state police whose arrests will be handled by the state Attorney General. A message to law enforcement that they will have immunity from prosecution or lawsuits regarding brutality and rights violations (HB 2, SB 6). A State of Emergency was declared to allocate additional funding to hire more police and alleviate any restrictions on hiring them too quickly or without proper training. Meanwhile, a deployment of the National Guard to Texas indicates how quickly the Governor is to expend our resources on ideological pursuits.
Police saturation is not based on any data correlation with safety and crime. Louisiana has more law enforcement per capita than anywhere in the world, including a police station inside the French Quarter (next to the Louisiana Supreme Court) and a second police station bordering the Quarter. Crime rates, which is the percentage likelihood that someone will fall victim of a crime, do not account for New Orleans commuters and visitors; thus, all of those “high” rates (based on number of residents) are false. Millions of visitors come and go without being scared, but that is not likely to be true if New Orleans begins to resemble the Palestinian West Bank.
Thursday night Rep. Jason Hughes gave an impassioned speech pushing back on the characterization of New Orleans as a “wild west” place to fear, and questioned the details around the State Police “Troop” to be stationed in New Orleans.
The expansion of Drug Court testing (HB 3) was a promising bill, however the hearing suggests this is simply a method of transferring millions of Opioid Litigation Settlement funds into the hands of sheriffs who will drug test everyone who gets booked into the jail. There is no talk of expanding Drug Court or expanding treatment, both of which are already at capacity, and there are no quality controls in place with sheriffs in Louisiana. Thus, it will be a handout, and testing will be relatively meaningless.
Opioid Settlement monies came from corporations that were intentionally pushing drugs onto their distributors, licensed doctors, all of whom understood the addiction qualities were more harmful than advertised. Rather than rounding people up to go to prison for such widespread predatory behavior, they paid their way out of accountability using a portion of their billions in drug dealing profits, including profits from fentanyl. These funds were allocated to states, some of whom had attorney generals who were more aggressive with the drug dealers than others (Louisiana’s Jeff Landry was not) and are supposed to be spent on rehabilitative efforts. Louisiana will put it in the hands of police and sheriffs.
A 25-year mandatory minimum for people convicted of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl that appears to be attractive to minors (HB 8) comes on the heels of a 2023 legislative crusade against fentanyl through this same method. Not a single doctor or addiction specialist appeared in the room, and no data to support the false claim that death sentences for drug dealers has an impact on our family members who get high, and potentially overdose and die was presented. The war on crack and heroin went down similar paths and failed. Not only is this law peculiar, as it presumes someone is out there with animal crackers or an ice cream truck all laced with fentanyl, it simply sucks up all the oxygen in a building that should be a center of collective problem solving. Most drug users also sell drugs to keep their habit afloat, and barbaric prisons are not the health care we need to fight addiction. Most of the legislators have likely never heard of naltrexone or buprenophine, FDA-approved opioid antagonists, medications that are proven to help people overcome or manage their addictions.
Teenagers are in the sights of this law enforcement approach. On the one hand, our political establishment explains how they want to stop drug dealers from distributing to young people (through the lens of kids as victims) but meanwhile they will target those young people who are seeking intoxication based on their own feelings of discontent, anxiety, depression, experimentation or hopelessness. Rather than build out supportive services for 17-year olds over the course of a 5-year phase in to the juvenile system, Louisiana did nothing with “Raise the Age” until they realized the juvenile system was bursting at the seams.
Although 17 year olds account for less than 1% of all crimes, they are over 25% of the juvenile crimes (14 – 17). Courts, counselors, jails and prisons can’t handle the added workload. So after a few years of crying “Juvenile Crime is Up!” (it actually merely added 25% more crimes by adding 17 year olds), they have given up on the project, and sending kids back to adult court for every last misdemeanor and petty felony so they can have a permanent criminal record to go along with a more severe physical and psychological punishment (SB 3). Again, this is Crime Reaction, not Crime Prevention.
The “Transparency” bill (HB 1) is to make those permanent records easier for the general public to look up any time, including arrest records. This would also apply to every violent crime for 14 – 16 year olds. No data, nor even a hypothesis, on how this helps crime except for those of us who note that criminal records discrimination drives people towards crime, not away from it. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor put out a report showing that 90% of the people receiving housing support after release are successful with reentry, making it the most powerful anti-crime provision of any tangible metric. In 2023, however (and likely again in 20224) this Legislature also will not pass a bill that reduces criminal records discrimination in rental housing. In fact, all the bill requires is for landlords to post their standards of discrimination so that applicants need not waste their time and money. And this is for people who actually have funds to rent an apartment. This will undoubtedly INCREASE CRIME.
The Legislative Auditor also showed Louisiana Workforce Commission data that the median income of people who were successful in reentry was a meager $15k, while those who returned to prison was $3k. The data is likely more a sample than it is comprehensive, considering this study population is highly transitional; however, it does suggest the number of legitimate jobs people are able to secure in their situation. The bottom side of the median is likely close to $0, as they were not able to secure a job at all. This Crime Session is not concerned with this data point either.
The Governor and others bemoan “criminals rights,” as though there are any rights other than the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Whether someone is sworn to defend the U.S. and Louisiana Constitutions or not, there will be no confidence if this Governor is appointing the Chief Public Defender (SB 8). This person could easily water-down representation, hire less than vigorous public defenders, and have no funding for investigation and expert witnesses.
What happens upon arrest and after the mandatory drug test? Some will be on probation or parole. Louisiana is set to increase probation sentences from 3 years to 5 years (HB 11) and allow people to be violated for as little as an arrest. Currently, someone needs to be convicted of a new allegation, and a low-level misdemeanor is not enough for a full revocation. With 5 years over someone’s head, and freshly arrested, the pressure to plead guilty (and take a few years sentence) will be immense. Especially when someone has no faith in the system, including their own attorney. The standard of violating probation is much less than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This would be similar to the lopsided pressure system that the Non-Unanimous Jury provided. Under this new system, step one will be getting young people to take a 5 year probation sentence so they can get out of jail and go home, and then later on a petty offense or false allegation will turn into 5 year prison sentences. This form of system has been panned by the American Bar Association, and someone should be found guilty through Due Process to be revoked.
Once sentenced, people will be doing at least 85% of their sentence (versus a potential range down to 35%), as the HB 10 will toss aside the bulk of Good Time credits. Good Time is supported by every prison administration in America, as it is the primary “carrot” to incentivize good behavior. It keeps people safe. It is also very easy to lose Good Time credits, so the tiny 15% allowable will get eaten into with every discipline infraction. The bill does not stop people from earning up to 1-year in program credits, however, there is next to no programs in many parts of the Louisiana gulag that spans 8 state prisons and over 100 local facilities. Jails and prisons will be bulging. Guards and deputies will be in demand, yet this Legislature has never been serious about providing the low-level captors with salaries, benefits, and protections. Some places hire the same position two or three times per year, and these front line jobs are critical to maintaining a gulag of excess labor that have been replaced by exported jobs, robots, self checkout, and other automation. The Governor just eliminated the Job Creation requirement of massive tax break for companies that spend money on capital improvements.
HB 10 is similar to the “Dangerous Offender” bill (HB 14) which applies to a subset of convicted people: those with any prior violent crime or a drug distribution conviction. The 85% provision is not mandatory, but similar to the Habitual Offender laws, it is a tool to pursue and pressure plea deals upwards. It is basically a 2-strike bill, setting a new precedent in giving up on people. Considering how many people addicted to drugs also distribute drugs, we know this is who will be most commonly impacted.
People who are innocent, or guilty of a lesser crime, often have bad appointed counsel, or evidence was withheld, or did not get investigated and brought to light. Direct appeal is not where someone can raise these issues, so they need to wait until the post-conviction petition some years down the road. HB 4 is about limiting the ability to have a case heard. Currently, if a judge or district attorney sees that a case should be heard and given a hearing, they can simply ignore the various procedural barriers that often come up when people (usually pro se) are filing multiple times but never getting a hearing. They often call these “successive” or “repetitive” petitions, despite a person never getting a hearing on the evidence they want heard.
Among the many people whose tortured legal sagas ended in innocence was our friend John Thompson, who was on Death Row for 14 years. Despite appeal after appeal, and trying to reveal the intentional suppression of evidence proving his innocence, nobody was ultimately held liable. Under the new laws, his post-conviction petitions might have been stopped in their tracks. Also, under HB 5 he, Glenn Ford (also exonerated from Death Row) and the 90 people currently sentenced to Death would face nitrogen gas or the revived electric chair. Both have been proven to be horrific and painful deaths, which may be exactly the point. Definitely will be subject to U.S. Supreme Court review. And under HB 5, the entire process will be in secret- including whether the suffocating gas was made by a proper chemical manufacturer, or in the equivalent of a meth lab rural Louisiana. If Louisiana is giong to conduct Public Executions, let them be public, and let those who would actually kill in all our names, seeking to prove that killing is wrong, stand and be counted.