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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sent the following letter to President Donald J. Trump today about the failed prison reform effort in Louisiana:  

August 8, 2018

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Like you, I am deeply concerned about the scourge of crime, gang violence and drug addiction that is afflicting this great country.  Criminals are turning neighborhoods into war zones and small towns into drug dens.  In the process, families are being destroyed.  Some people make a youthful mistake and benefit from a second chance.  Other people never reform.  Prisons are a necessary fixture that make our communities safer.

As you prepare to hold meetings on prison and sentencing reform, I wanted to share a cautionary tale from my home state of Louisiana.  People are being killed because of the so-called criminal justice reforms that were put in place.

Louisiana started freeing several thousand inmates last year by reducing the mandatory amount of time that they had to serve.  The overall goal was twofold: reduce costs and give another state the title of world’s highest incarceration rate.  Inmates weren’t vetted by the probation and parole boards for their threat to public safety.  They weren’t paired with programs to reduce their recidivism.  They were simply released from prison.

The result is that the Justice Reinvestment Act is failing the law-abiding public in Louisiana.  Already, 22% of inmates have been rearrested, and it hasn’t even been a year since the releases started.  At least two of the inmates released ahead of schedule are back behind bars on murder charges. 

In the 23rd Judicial District of Louisiana, which encompasses small towns in three parishes, one in three inmates released through the Justice Reinvestment Act has been rearrested.  That’s a recidivism rate of 33% in less than a year.  Our five-year recidivism rate in Louisiana was 43%.  Because of the criminal justice reforms, our recidivism rate is on track to exceed 50%.  That is not progress. It shows that Louisiana is releasing career criminals purely to save on the cost of housing them.

Louisiana’s law enforcement officers and prosecutors – the ones who have to arrest, house and prosecute the same criminals they arrested, housed and prosecuted just a short time ago – are raising serious concerns.  The head of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association publicly said that Louisiana’s streets are not safer because of criminal justice reform.  He also noted that simply reducing prison population is not a measure of success.

The inmates already rearrested include:

  • Despite more than 60 arrests on his rap sheet, Tyrone “Smokey” White walked out of prison early because of Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Act.  White promptly robbed two roofers at gunpoint.
  • Ricko Canaz Ball – also known as Oil Slickster for his habit of breaking into automobile-related stores – was released in November despite a string of theft convictions.  He was arrested again in January in half a dozen burglaries.
  • Habitual offender Alton Brooks Jr. racked up four arrests within two months of his early release.  The new charges include battery of a police officer.  Brooks has a criminal history that consumes 51 pages in Jefferson Parish.
  • Richard McLendon got out of prison a year early because of Gov. Edwards’ criminal reform package.  He was arrested in June for gunning down a 61-year-old man in Haughton.  
  • Paul Jackson got out of prison five months early.  He’s now back in jail on a murder charge.

 

Additionally, the Louisiana Department of Corrections is not competent to handle the prison release program.  Consider:

  • Longtime Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola warden Burl Cain resigned in 2016 amid a cloud of controversy.  Mr. Cain hired a company to build a recycling plant at Dixon Correctional Institute for the state and then signed a personal contract to broker similar deals for the company.  Mr. Cain also is accused of going into business with the family and friends of prison inmates.  The Corrections Department later decided that arrangement was fine – partly because it wasn’t sexual - but said it might forbid similar arrangements in the future.  An audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office found that Mr. Cain’s family stayed for free and ate for free in homes owned by the state.
  • Mr. Burl Cain’s son, former Avoyelles Correctional Center warden Nate Cain, was indicted in 2017 on 18 fraud charges for inappropriately charging $152,000 to a state credit card.  He also faces an obstruction of justice charge.  According to an arrest warrant, Nate Cain and his wife, Tonia, also a prison Corrections Department employee, ordered prison employees to buy things for their personal use with state credit cards.  Investigators later seized a camera, Bose headphones, TVs, clothing and an airsoft gun wrapped as a Christmas gift from their home.  The state also spent nearly $80,000 building an almost 4,000-square-foot home for the Cains before construction halted amid questions about why state bid laws had been circumvented.
  • Mr. Burl Cain’s one-time subordinate, former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola supervisor Sidney Davis, was arrested last year for using prison employees’ club funds to buy alcohol, La-Z-Boy recliners, a sound machine and other questionable items, including nasal spray.  He told investigators that the purchases were an accident.
  • Another one-time subordinate of Mr. Burl Cain, Shirley Whittington, pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud for stealing $115,000 from a fund that was supposed to be used to create recreational opportunities for prison employees and their families who live on prison grounds.  She used the money to shop online.  The theft went on for years.
  • A Louisiana newspaper described Governor Edwards’ Corrections Departments’ staff chart as a genealogical exercise because so many relatives of Mr. Burl Cain and Governor Edwards’ Corrections Department Secretary James “Jimmy” LeBlanc have been on the department’s payroll.
  • Mr. Gary Shotwell was deputy warden when Secretary LeBlanc was warden at Dixon Correctional Institute.  Mr. Shotwell and the husband of LeBlanc’s niece later got slices of $6.3 million in work on a building renovation the Corrections Department Secretary should have put out for bid but didn’t after Mr. LeBlanc became Governor Edwards’ Correction Department secretary.  The niece’s husband got the design portion of the project.  Mr. Shotwell got the construction portion.
  • Governor Edwards’ Corrections Department spent $3.6 million on an updated inmate tracking system.  The department used the new system for six weeks and then abandoned it.
  • Under Col. Edmonson’s leadership, State Troopers took a road trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon at Louisiana taxpayer expense. They charged the taxpayers overtime for their sightseeing.  Col. Edmonson later called the side trip irresponsible.  However, phone records – that he tried to erase - showed that he traded friendly text messages with the troopers during their excursion.
  • Three Louisiana State Troopers have been accused of claiming a massive amount of overtime they did not work, as a result of an undercover investigation by a New Orleans television station.  The television series, titled “State of Unrest,” included footage of troopers allegedly abusing a traffic law enforcement program by writing a full shift’s worth of tickets in a relatively short period of time.  One trooper was paid $240,000 in 2016, $147,000 of which was overtime. 

Unfortunate as it is, Mr. President, I hope Louisiana’s misguided attempt at criminal justice reform can prevent similar missteps.  Thank you for your consideration.

                                                                        Sincerely,

 

                                                                        John Kennedy

                                                                        United States Senator

 

 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) raised concerns today about the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ ability to protect the public after the state’s district attorneys indicated that nearly a quarter of inmates released early through Gov. Edwards’ Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act have been arrested again.  At least two of the rearrested inmates are behind bars on murder charges.

Inmates were released without the probation and parole boards evaluating the risk to public safety.  In Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes, one in three inmates who were released early has already reoffended. 

The Justice Reinvestment Act has saved the state money, but few of the savings appear to be funding recidivism reduction efforts.  News reports indicate that pilot programs aimed at working with high risk offenders fizzled.

“It’s clear to me that DOC doesn’t know what it’s doing, and people are getting killed as a result.  You can’t let criminals out of jail and just expect them to behave.  That’s like starving a fox and then asking him to guard the henhouse,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “No one reviewed DOC’s early release decisions, and now the public is suffering the consequences.  The state might be saving money by emptying the prisons, but law enforcement and district attorneys are stuck with the tab for arresting and prosecuting these criminals over and over again.  Even worse, the public’s been placed in danger because of DOC’s incompetence.”

Here are a few of those rearrested:

  • Despite more than 60 arrests on his rap sheet, Tyrone “Smokey” White walked out of prison early because of Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Act.  White promptly robbed two roofers at gunpoint.
  • Ricko Canaz Ball – also known as Oil Slickster for his habit of breaking into automobile-related stores – was released in November despite a string of theft convictions.  He was arrested again in January in half a dozen burglaries.
  • Habitual offender Alton Brooks Jr. racked up four arrests within two months of his early release.  The new charges include battery of a police officer.  Brooks has a criminal history that consumes 51 pages.
  • Richard McLendon got out of prison a year early because of Gov. Edwards’ criminal reform package.  He was arrested in June for gunning down a 61-year-old man in Haughton.  
  • Paul Jackson got out of prison five months early.  He’s now back in jail on a murder charge.

 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump tweeted support today for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-La.) call to add work requirements for food stamps to the final version of the Farm Bill.  

“I would like to thank President Trump for supporting this important reform to the food stamp program.  We need to help people thrive,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “I don’t want to take food stamps away from people in need.  I want fewer people to need food stamps.  And the best way to do that is to implement a work requirement for food stamps.  As the House Farm Bill provides, if you are between 18 and 59, aren’t disabled and don’t have a child under six, you can still get food stamps but you also have to work 20 hours a week.  We will help you get a job; thanks to the tax cuts passed by President Trump and Congress, employers are begging for workers.  The goal of every government welfare program, including food stamps, should be to help people get a job.  There is dignity in work!”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate today to advocate that work requirements be added for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, in the final version of the Farm Bill.
 

“Government assistance was designed to be an off-ramp to help people leave poverty in their tracks, but it’s become a parking lot,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “People are stuck there, impoverished, with no exit in sight.  Farm Bill conferees will have the rare chance to fix it.  I want to urge my colleagues to consider adding a work requirement to SNAP in the final version of the Farm Bill.  I want an America that spends less money on food stamps because fewer Americans need help putting food on the table.  We owe it to the American taxpayer, and to every American who relies on SNAP, to reform the program so that it works as it was originally intended.”

Click here or the photo below to watch Sen. Kennedy’s full floor speech. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) issued a statement today after the Senate passed a four-month reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  The reauthorization protects more than 500,000 properties across Louisiana through the remainder of hurricane season.

“It would have been bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid to let the National Flood Insurance Program expire in the middle of hurricane season, and my colleagues realized that,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “With this extension in place, we can tackle long-term reforms.  The last time we truly reformed the NFIP was never.  It’s about time we did.  The program needs to be affordable and sustainable.”

Sen. Kennedy has pushed for an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program while working on long-term reforms that will keep premiums affordable for families. 

A year ago, Sens. Kennedy, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) introduced comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to make much-needed reforms to address the waste and abuse in the program.  The legislation, entitled “The Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE) National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2017,” protects policyholders from excessive rate hikes.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) issued the following statement after the Senate called a vote for 12:15 p.m. EST Tuesday on a four-month reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP):

“For millions of Americans – not to mention thousands of Louisianans ? the National Flood Insurance Program is not a luxury; it’s a necessity,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “We need to reform this program, but we also need to keep it alive through the end of hurricane season.  People have been living near the water since Moby Dick was a minnow.  Few of them are living in luxury beach homes.  A reauthorization gives us time to make meaningful changes without scaring five million Americans half to death.”

To watch the vote live, visit https://www.senate.gov/ and click on “Floor Webcast.” 

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) spoke on the U.S. Senate floor yesterday in support of former U.S. Rep. John Fleming’s recent nomination.  Dr. Fleming is nominated to be the assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.

“Dr. Fleming has dedicated his life to public service, both as a military veteran and as a four-time elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “He’s run his own family medicine practice for decades, created jobs for hundreds of people in Louisiana and served his country in the U.S. Navy.  He’s just a great guy.  I’m honored to support his nomination to the Department of Commerce.”

Click here or the photo below to watch Sen. Kennedy’s remarks. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a huge win for Louisiana families who make their living shrimping and fishing, the U.S. Senate voted 87-11 today in favor of an amendment by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to spend an additional $3.1 million in Fiscal Year 2019 – or 26% more - on imported seafood inspections.  The amendment aims to tackle funding problems that result in only roughly 2% of seafood imports receiving FDA inspections.

The amendment, which was attached to H.R. 6147, addresses concerns that were raised by Louisiana shrimpers during a meeting with Sen. Kennedy earlier this summer in Houma.  U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) is a co-sponsor.

“Louisiana produces the best seafood in the world.  Unfortunately our commercial fishermen have to compete with foreign fishermen who are unfairly subsidized by their governments, face virtually no environmental regulations and pump their product full of drugs.  Other countries know they can cheat because the U.S. can only inspect a fraction of what’s coming in.  That’s about to change,” said Sen. Kennedy. 

“Louisiana shrimpers are being undercut by inferior, uninspected seafood from foreign countries,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This measure increases the FDA’s ability to inspect foreign seafood coming into our country, protecting American consumers and Louisiana workers.”

Click here or the link below to watch Sen. Kennedy’s floor remarks.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate today to urge his colleagues to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program and not abandon millions of Americans in the middle of hurricane season. 

The National Flood Insurance Program expires in less than a week on July 31.  There are more than 500,000 flood insurance policies in Louisiana.  Only Texas and Florida have more policyholders.


Click here or the photo below to watch Sen. Kennedy’s full remarks.

Highlights from the speech: 

Promises Need To Be Kept:  “Without Congressional action, ordinary Americans, the ones who get up and go to work every day, will suffer.  Our constituents work hard to earn enough to cover their mortgages, pay their insurance premiums, put food on the table and hopefully have a little extra when all is said and done.  The federal government made a promise to more than five million hardworking Americans, and half a million Louisianans, that we would have their backs.  It’s high time that Congress gets its act together.  The NFIP is just too important to be used as a political football.  For millions of folks in my state and elsewhere, this program is the only way that they can protect their most valuable assets.  At a minimum, we owe those hardworking Americans some peace of mind.”

Brink of Disaster: “The reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program has never been more urgent.  We are now fewer than five session days from the brink of disaster.  If the NFIP is allowed to expire on July 31, Congress will be sending a clear message to the five million hardworking Americans who count on the program: We don’t care.”

Poisonous Rhetoric: “Last September, when Texas and parts of Louisiana were still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, a member of Congress said, and I quote, “The federal government is encouraging and subsidizing people to live in harm’s way … at some point, God is telling you to move.”

We’ve Lived Near The Water Since Biblical Times: “Living near water is an economic necessity, and hardworking people have settled near water since the beginning of time.  It’s as true for us now as it was in biblical times that our economies and our livelihoods are tied to water.  Take the Mississippi River: Each year, it sustains 1.3 million jobs and generates more than $405 billion in revenue.  How many jobs are tied to the 12,000 miles of U.S. coastline?  What would the economic impact be if everyone who lived near one of the 3.5 million miles of rivers in this great country picked up and moved?  I hope, for the good of our economy, we never find out.”

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