Graham leads Rotary in discussion on state’s Sentencing Commission

Rotarian Clay Lejeune, far left, and President Scott Shumacher, far right, welcomed the vocational speech of Rotarian M’Elise Trahan, second from right, and, from left, Caitlin Graham and G. Paul Marx of the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, to the Rotary Club of Crowley’s Tuesday meeting.

The Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement strives to improve the operations of the criminal justice and juvenile justice system as well as promote public safety by providing progressive leadership and coordination within the criminal justice community.

Part of that fight for the Sentencing Commission has been the push for rehabilitation and education and training, especially for non-violent criminals like those convicted of drug-related crimes.

That was the main focus of Caitlin Graham’s message Tuesday to the Rotary Club of Crowley.

Graham spoke of the Sentencing Commission’s goals and duties before turning the discussion over to the Rotarians, most of whom seemed to agree with Graham’s belief that incarceration for these individuals is not the answer.

As it stands now, statistics show Louisiana has the highest rate of incarcerated citizens per capita in the world. Graham, during her discussion, and subsequent questions-and-answers portion, pointed to how the commission is hoping to take a look at things like how drug charges are classified in the next year or so, making it more comparable to other states.

She even compared Louisiana’s current breakdown as more like being hit with a blunt object and pointed out that, in years past. the state has had the approach of answering the increase of drug use and abuse with incarceration. 

“Often, (offenders) don’t just need incarceration,” she said, “they need treatment.

However, in recent years, as more have become aware of the fiscal hit taxpayers take with incarcerated individuals, attitudes have begun changing.

For Rotarians, it is simply more a matter of humanity.

“We’ve all had drug use effect us somehow either directly or indirectly,” said Dr. Ezora Proctor.

“It’s a problem, and it’s a problem that everyone usually tries to pass the buck on.”

Ted Carmichael agreed, pointing to how those who abuse alcohol are not immediately thrown in jail; rather, they have the option of rehabilitation and so forth. Carmichael added that the key would be, however, making the rehabilitation part of the sentence, as is the case in some alcohol-related conviction. He added that saving a few drug users and abusers is a much better option than just putting them all in jail.

Graham, however, does understand the other side, the frustration of seeing people get second and even third chances that are squandered and the idea of “maybe jail is the only answer.” 

Still, Graham said she believes that the treatment and education/training sides of the coin are important.

She agreed with the Rotarians that those who feel strongly about the situation should contact their local legislators, pointing out that if politicians hear from enough constituents, they’ll understand that taking an approach like this isn’t being soft on drugs, it is being fiscally responsible and trying to improve lives.

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