- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Oct. 19

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on issues with state child welfare agencies:

If Louisiana is not alone, it is still far from a great distinction to have children spending nights at a social worker’s office, because there is no place for a child in state supervision to go.

States across the nation have reported similar problems, as child welfare agencies have more children to help and fewer places to put them.

Citing reporting by The Advocate, a national survey by Governing magazine said there have been similar cases in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Washington, D.C.

While such incidents reflect only a few instances, compared to the number of children served, it is a vivid example of the shortcomings of child welfare across the nation.

For Louisiana’s top official in child welfare, Marketa Garner Walters, those incidents are part of a larger picture of social workers with too many children to supervise and too few options for them.

Walters, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services, outlined the math to the Press Club of Baton Rouge recently.

Between 2008 and 2016, DCFS’s workforce was cut by more than 600 positions - from about 1,800 to about 1,200. “Our caseloads have not gone down,” Walters emphasized. “Let me be abundantly clear: they have gone up.”

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor earlier this year found the department struggles with its high caseloads, staff turnover and outdated technology affected its ability to perform some basic reviews meant to ensure foster kids’ safety.

The audit focused on performance during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and was requested by the Edwards administration, but new management is not the only remedy needed; money is hard to come by, although legislators at least recently provided money to replace old vehicles and some equipment.

Inevitably, though, morale at the agency suffered during years of cutbacks. There are few functions of government more labor-intensive than supervision of a family where a child is feared to be abused or neglected; caseworkers have to be able to work with the family, to eliminate the causes of problems and with luck keep the child safely in the home. Other cases require more intensive intervention, and that involves more time, including working with the court system and waiting in courtrooms.

Again, we’re not alone. Walters said, as national studies have found few states serving children well in such difficult circumstances. “We know that we are not meeting our own internal standards,” she said bluntly of DCFS.

If this is “a struggle across the country,” why is there not more active intervention by the Legislature to fund the improvements that will make a difference in the lives of children? Those are our future assets, or liabilities if the job is not done right.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com/

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Oct. 20

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on a sheriff’s comments about criminal justice reform:

Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Oct. 18 that the Caddo Parish sheriff didn’t mean what he said recently when he complained about losing “good” prisoners because of sentencing reforms.

“I don’t think the sheriff meant it quite the way it came out based on the meeting I had with him this morning,” the governor said during his monthly radio show.

Gov. Edwards is being kind, it seems.

Sheriff Steve Prator’s feelings about the state’s new sentencing laws were pretty clear. He doesn’t want to lose inmates he finds useful. “They are releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change the oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen - to do all that where we save money,” he told reporters.

The good prisoners are “the ones you can work. That’s the one that you can have pick up trash or work the police programs. But guess what? Those are the ones that they are releasing.”

Perhaps Sheriff Prator understands now that his comments were inappropriate. Let’s hope so.

His concern about losing inmates who can be trusted to work for him - for free - shows how messed up Louisiana’s approach to incarceration has been.

The state has locked up thousands of nonviolent offenders for long sentences, some for decades, in a misguided attempt to reduce crime. Many lower-risk inmates are held in parish jails, where sheriffs are paid a daily rate and allowed to use them as unpaid labor.

Louisiana had 40,000 inmates in state prisons and parish jails in 2012, which was more per capita than any other state and double the national average. By 2015, the number of inmates had fallen 9 percent because of legislative and corrections policy reforms.

But our state still leads the world in incarceration. The reform legislation passed in the spring should bring the numbers down over time.

Future sentences will be shorter for theft, burglary, drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes. Sentences under the habitual offender law also would be shortened. Parole and probation options will grow significantly.

The new laws are estimated to reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10 percent and save $78 million over the next decade.

Roughly 1,400 inmates will be released in November because of the new laws. Eighty percent of them are being held in local jails. So, Sheriff Prator and sheriffs across Louisiana are about to lose some income. It’s not surprising that they might be unhappy about that.

But people shouldn’t be locked up for long periods for nonviolent crimes just so sheriffs can make money or save on labor costs. All of the inmates being released next month go through a reentry program to help them transition.

The legislative task force that did the research that led to the new laws found that Louisiana was out of kilter compared with other Southern states. “The Task Force found that the state sent people to prison for drug, property, and other nonviolent offenses at twice the rate of South Carolina and three times the rate of Florida, even though the states had nearly identical crime rates,” the report says.

Thanks to leadership from Gov. Edwards and some legislators, we’re finally making a serious effort to reverse that trend.

Trusties who are allowed to work in jails “are exactly the ones we would want to release a little early because they have proven themselves trustworthy and they have a good work ethic and they didn’t commit a serious violent offense,” Gov. Edwards said on his radio show.

“Those are the ones that all states are targeting for criminal justice reform,” he said.

Sheriff Prator may not be happy about that, but it is the right approach.

Online: http://www.nola.com/

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Oct. 19

Daily Comet of Thibodaux on issues with the National Flood Insurance Program:

What Louisianans - and millions of other Americans who live near the water - need is a long-term solution to the problems plaguing the National Flood Insurance Program.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, touched on the topic during an interview on Oct. 17.

“We’re going to have to come together and find a way to renew the program on a long-term basis. We need certainty. I’d like to see a five-year authorization of the flood insurance program, and I’m working with a lot of other members to try to make that happen,” Scalise said. “There are going to be reforms to the program because there are a lot of people who want to see it end, but in the meantime it really does hurt people, especially first-time home buyers.”

There are several different problems that affect the flood insurance program and the many people whose investments it helps protect.

First, and what should be most important, the program is facing mounting debt caused by storm damage it has had to cover. This year’s storms will end up costing the program even more and exacerbating its fiscal difficulties.

Second, the program faces a political challenge. Although people throughout the nation are affected by the threat of flooding, not all politicians recognize the importance of subsidizing this important program and helping people avoid financial ruin in the case of a flood.

Third, it is the victim of long-term inaction by Congress and a succession of presidents who have simply put off any attempt at solving the problems at its core, opting instead to pass short-term extensions and delay the inevitable cooperation and compromise that a solution will require.

Facing yet another expiration of the program in September, Congress extended the program through the end of the year. But people who live along the coast, our many rivers and lakes and other flood-prone regions cannot afford to protect their homes and businesses a few months at a time. And they certainly cannot afford the economic chaos that allowing the program to expire would surely cause.

The rate of coverage by flood insurance is far less than it should be. Even though banks and mortgage companies require the coverage for loans on homes and businesses in flood zones, the compliance rate is minuscule. Forcing these people and businesses to participate in the program would drive up the revenue it receives and lessen its financial burden.

The federal government offers a generous payment to insurance companies that sign up customers for flood insurance - even though those companies carry none of the risk associated with the policy. Adjusting this rate of compensation, over millions of policies, could also be a welcome windfall for the program without affecting people’s ability to purchase insurance.

This is not a partisan issue. But it is an issue that affects many of us in south Louisiana.

Let us hope that Scalise can convince his colleagues in Washington, D.C., to support an approach that will bring long-term relief to people and businesses that need and deserve it.

Online: http://www.dailycomet.com/

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