The state passed potentially historic reform bills in June, but a critic says Louisiana still will lead the U.S. in inarceration rates. Gov. John Bel Edwards predicts that the state will be No. 2 in a decade.
In June, the Louisiana legislature passed 10 bills tackling sentencing, prisoner rehabilitation, and related criminal-justice reforms. The bills could be historic. The state’s incarceration rate is about double the national average. Some defense attorneys and reform advocates say that all is not so rosy it seems in Louisiana, Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post. They say the state could have done a lot more, and see the reform package as a missed opportunity. “Louisiana leads the country in incarceration,” says G. Ben Cohen, a defense attorney who takes cases in Louisiana through the nonprofit Promise of Justice Initiative. “And after these bills, it will still lead the country in incarceration.” Gov. John Bel Edwards and the bills’ supporters say that after 10 years, the new laws will put the state at No. 2.
Critics say one man is almost single-handedly holding up criminal-justice reform: Hugo Holland, an old-school prosecutor formerly of the DA’s office that at one point led the state in death sentences. Holland was forced to resign as a prosecutor in Caddo Parish in 2012 when he and a colleague were caught falsifying federal forms to procure a cache of M-16s for themselves through the Pentagon program that give surplus military gear to police departments. Holland was re-hired by parishes all over the state as a part-time prosecutor. He also was hired by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association — with public funding — to persuade state legislators to vote against criminal-justice reform. He has successfully scuttled momentum to end the death penalty in Louisiana, and persuaded lawmakers to divert money from indigent defendants in death penalty cases. He was less successful in killing the reforms passed in June, but reform advocates say he persuaded lawmakers to vote down the reforms that most worried prosecutors.