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Republicans target Louisiana governor for giving prisoners a second chance

Edwards has been praised in the past for helping reform the state criminal justice system more broadly.

By Josh Israel - November 14, 2019
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John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening the newly built main terminal of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, La., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Republican Governors Association has made a big deal about efforts by GOP governors working to reform the criminal justice system.

Now, a misleading new ad by the group’s political arm attacks Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for his efforts to give a handful of prisoners a second chance.

The new digital ad by the RGA Right Direction PAC, posted on Wednesday, notes that as part of Edwards’ criminal justice reform efforts, he commuted the sentences of some criminals in his first year in office.

“His first year in office, Edwards commuted the sentences of 15 convicted murderers,” the narrator says. “One was serving a life sentence for killing an innocent husband and father in cold blood. Now he’s back out on the street — and the victim’s family is outraged.”

Edwards, at the recommendation of the state’s pardon board, commuted 22 prisoner’s sentences in his first year in office. Sixteen of those went to people serving life sentences.

One of those whose sentence was commuted was David Martin Bacon, a then-53-year-old man convicted of a 1988 murder. Bacon had been given a life sentence for second-degree murder in a 1988 botched robbery. He had been 24 at the time of his crime and had served 27 years. The Louisiana Pardon-Parole Board unanimously endorsed Edwards’ move, based on his long record as a model prisoner.

According to Andrew Hundley, the executive director of the Louisiana Parole Project, the commutations sparked “renewed hope” for those who’d languished in prison for decades for violent offenses.

Hundley, who spoke with The Appeal last July, said the commutations “had positive effects” at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, one of the nation’s largest maximum-security prisons.

“Many offenders who previously assumed they would die inside prison suddenly started trying to improve their behavior, as a favorable recommendation from the pardon board requires an applicant to be free from disciplinary reports for 24 months,” The Appeal reported. “Inmates also began applying for educational opportunities and prison organizations to boost their applications.”

“Edwards may not realize this but he’s the warden’s best friend,” Hundley added.

In addition to commuting sentences, Edwards helped reform the state criminal justice system more broadly “by spearheading a legislation package that lowered mandatory minimum sentences, expanded alternatives to prison, and made it easier for nonviolent offenders to get out of prison early,” The Appeal noted.

Despite pushing a “tough on crime” agenda, Republicans at the national level have, over the past few years, begun talking about serious criminal justice reform.

Donald Trump signed a major bipartisan criminal justice reform law last December, aimed at boosting rehabilitation of prisoners. In July, his Justice Department announced it would release thousands of federal prisoners under the new law.

Last month, Trump touted the law, noting the reform measure aimed to “confront inequality and stop injustice” and “to restore hope and optimism where they are really needed the most and where there was very little.”

The RGA has also touted criminal justice reform efforts by those in its party, including Govs. Matt Bevin (R-KY), Phil Bryant (R-MS), Larry Hogan (R-MD), Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), and Bill Lee (R-TN).

Edwards faces Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in Saturday’s gubernatorial run-off election. Polls show a close race.

On Thursday, Trump will travel to campaign for Rispone. The Republican National Committee also just announced it will pour another $1 million into efforts to win the race.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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