- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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June 30

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on deputies at the Orleans Justice Center going through Peace Officer Standards and Training certification:

Hundreds of inmates who were being held temporarily in jails across Louisiana are making their way back to the Orleans Justice Center.

While they were gone, dozens of deputies at the justice center went through Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification. The training is supposed to improve safety and help stabilize staffing. Having the jail at capacity for the first time since March will test that theory.

This could be a pivotal moment for the Orleans Justice Center, which has been under federal consent decree for four years to correct unconstitutional conditions.

Even after reforms were ordered by U.S. District Lance Africk, nothing improved. So a year ago, the judge took control of jail operations away from Sheriff Marlin Gusman and gave it to an independent compliance director.

Gary Maynard, a 40-year veteran of corrections who headed prison systems in Maryland and three other states, started that job in October. He quickly saw, he said, that staffing and training were a core problem.

The jail was 100 short of staff and for several years new hires hadn’t gotten essential training. There was no way to take deputies away from the job for the 12-week POST except to empty part of the jail, he said. That led to the shift of roughly 700 inmates to other Louisiana jails starting in March, an effort dubbed Operation Rewind. They are expected to be back at the Orleans Justice Center in July.

The lack of training had come up as a problem before Mr. Maynard arrived.

In early 2016, before Judge Africk took control from the sheriff, the lead federal monitor told the judge: “My experience tells me the wrong people were hired” and that “they weren’t given training, or backup.”

It will be up to Mr. Maynard and his staff to carefully screen the people they hire. But clearly he understands the importance of a competent staff to the safe operation of the jail.

The POST training is important not only for safety, but it could slow staff turnover. Deputies get a $6,000 per year pay bump when they complete the training.

Mr. Maynard plans to provide ongoing training for deputies and the jail leadership, including how to properly deal with mentally ill inmates.

But the first report from the monitoring team since Mr. Maynard was hired wasn’t positive. The monitors acknowledged the difficulty of his job in their report in May and said that he is working toward the same goal they are: “a safe, secure, and Constitutional jail.”

However, “compliance with the (consent judgment) has not improved since the last report; instead, it has regressed,” the monitors said.

Inmate safety had improved “marginally” since October, they said, but violence remains at “unacceptable levels.” They cited the death of two inmates and a “disturbance” in which inmates took over part of the Orleans Justice Center. They also noted incidents from other jails where New Orleans inmates were being held this spring.

In addition, the justice center is lacking in staff for areas where young offenders are held — in violation of an order from the judge. And the monitors recommended that Mr. Maynard bring in “experienced, competent jail professionals who can assist in all the required activities, as well as train and mentor existing staff.”

But at a hearing in early June in Judge Africk’s court, lead jail monitor Susan McCampbell was more optimistic. “There is light at the end of this tunnel,” she said.

With initial training done and inmates returning to the Orleans Justice Center, Mr. Maynard faces the next challenge: Showing that the staff can actually run the jail properly.

The monitor’s next compliance report is due in a few months. That assessment will be telling.

Online: https://www.nola.com/

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July 2

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a 2017 transportation bill:

Since the 1970s, Louisiana has held to a simple rule: pick roads for repairs based on objective factors, such as wear and tear and traffic counts. While the highway priority program is a good bit more complex than that, that plan pioneered by then-state Rep. Richard Baker of Baton Rouge became a solid benchmark for decades.

This year’s crop of legislators is not the first to chafe under the restrictions on their authority under the priority program. For one thing, the legislators can’t add projects to the road program, only delete them.

This may not work perfectly - after all, sometimes a needed project might slip through the cracks - but it is a big barrier to powerful legislators putting their roads and bridges ahead in the queue. For genuine emergencies such as hurricane damage, alternative sources of funding are available.

That is why Gov. John Bel Edwards was right to veto a 2017 bill that would have given legislators the power to shuffle the deck of projects. The governor and the Public Affairs Research Council studied the bill by state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, and feared that politics might weigh too heavily on road spending.

“This would inappropriately inject politics into a process that should be based on data and needs,” the governor said.

It was the right call. PAR said that the good intentions in the Abramson bill - to change the reporting requirements and other policies for the Department of Transportation and Development, DOTD - could be carried out by executive order in the meantime, before the Legislature meets again.

We think that is a good compromise. And we commend the governor, who is closely allied with senators who backed the changes to the bill that provoked this veto, but did the right thing anyway.

The Abramson bill was touted as a way to help restore voter confidence in DOTD. As with any large agency, the department’s policies and procedures might need tweaking. But the problems with public confidence in DOTD largely stem from the Legislature and governors, who for decades have failed to keep the gasoline tax - the main DOTD funding source - up with the rate of inflation.

Any agency that doesn’t have the money to do what is needed will not be popular.

Road funding has shrunk in buying power for 28 years. Legislators throw up a smokescreen of “confidence,” but the word that is important here is “courage.” They don’t have the courage to pay the bills, because raising taxes is unpopular.

We see nothing worse for public confidence in transportation than allowing powerful legislators to juggle the shrinking list of priority projects to fit their own political purposes.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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June 28

The Courier of Houma on a new program that eases felons’ transition into society after prison:

A new program that tries to ease the transition of felons back into society after prison is one that should make a difference in countless lives and to state taxpayers.

The idea is simple: Too often, nonviolent offenders get out of prison with few options. They lack education and job skills, they often have substance abuse problems, and they have felonies on their records. They find it exceedingly difficult to find employment, which tends to make their return to prison all the more likely.

The program that Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law last year tries to prepare inmates for their release by giving them some of the skills they will need.

The prisoners are required to undergo counseling and substance abuse treatment. And, they must get their GEDs and learn a skill that will help them get a job once they are released.

As importantly, the program provides training in life skills that are essential to becoming productive members of society.

Too often, we tend to look at crime and punishment as a balance between justice and punishment. But if there is some emphasis on rehabilitation, it might be a good way to break the unhealthy cycles that have resulted in such a huge number of our people living behind bars.

That is something that can be done in a way that decreases public costs without affecting public safety.

In this case, the program is open only to nonviolent offenders who are likely to land back in prison without the skills the program can help them get.

It’s already gotten the endorsement of one local judge.

“A lot of the recipe for crime is lack of education, no social skills, no work ethics or vocational skills and substance abuse problems,” Terrebonne Parish District Judge Pickett said. “I get letters from inmates from time to time who swear to me they’re not going to go back on drugs, but when they’re released they have nothing. And with a felony conviction on their record, it makes it even harder for them to find jobs. This program’s not designed to hurt people of the community. My main goal is to keep people safe. If you can get a grip on these people who are getting out of jail, you want to make sure they don’t re-offend.”

That should be reassuring to those who are concerned that it represents a softer approach to crime. Instead, this is more of a common sense approach. How do we make these people more likely to succeed and less likely to fail?

This isn’t the final solution, but it can help people get an initial boost into the free world and make them less prone to return to jail. That has to be good for everyone.

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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