Jul 282011
 

Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards

Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, United States Congress image
Courtesy U.S. federal government

The State of Louisiana has executed 15 of 28 individuals sentenced to death under Governor Edwin W. Edwards since 1976 — 13 by electrocution and 2 by lethal injection.

Edwin Edwards himself has recently finished an 8+ year term in federal prison for a corruption conviction and still claims that he was merely guilty of arrogance.

If Edwards actually does know the pain, damage, and what it means to be imprisoned for a crime one did not commit, would it not be a good thing for him to use his popularity and powerful connections to help free those in Louisiana’s penal system who can prove their innocence, but are repeatedly denied their constitutional rights in court?

Vincent Simmons is a native from Edwards’ home parish and one of those who are not just serving a few years, but decades, life without the benefit of parole, pardon or suspension of sentence, or even a death sentence in prison — wrongfully convicted.

Edwards and his third wife may be the stars of a new TV show soon. Nothing specific is known. However, a reality television show about the struggle of innocent prisoners would not only be entertaining, interesting and educational, it might be constructive and improve the injustice system. What you say, Mr. Edwards? Are you ready to step on your political friends’ toes?

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Jul 272011
 

Governor of Louisiana Edwin W. Edwards

Governor of Louisiana Edwin W. Edwards, United States Congress image
Courtesy U.S. federal government

He is a native of Marksville (Avoyelles Parish), Democrat, was Louisiana’s first Roman Catholic governor (1972-1976, 1976-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996), signed Louisiana’s Constitution of 1974, is labeled as “crook”, “gambler” and “womanizer,” and he served a federal prison term from 2002 until 2011 for a corruption conviction involving riverboat casino licenses.

As Vincent Simmons, Edwards has maintained his innocence from the start. Even officially political opponents as David C. Treen and J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. believe Edwards was railroaded. They asked U.S. President George W. Bush to pardon him in 2007, but Republican Bush denied the then 80-year-old early release on pardon.

As his late friend “Potch” Didier, former long-term sheriff of Avoyelles Parish, Edwards always was ahead of his time. After the Civil Rights Movement, many women and most African-Americans did not vote for conservative candidates. The “Cajun King,” as Edwards also was called, was a minority-friendly politician. The people of Louisiana elected the charismatic Avoyellean with lots of wit four times as governor and made him an undefeated record holder.

Even now, the convicted and released white collar criminal still has many supporters and connections. Edwards indicated to the media that he feels he is more popular today than before his conviction due to him taking the injustice in his case like a man.

No doubt, Edwin Edwards has returned to society with a bang as though he wanted to announce his comeback with a “Now-more-than-ever” attitude. Leo Honeycutt, an award winning journalist and author, wrote Edwin Edwards’ newest biography when the federal inmate was still confined. Trina Grimes Scott (32) of Alexandria, Louisiana, read the book, wrote and visited Edwards (83) in prison. Both will marry this Friday before Edwards’ 84th birthday on August 7, 2011.

Edwin Edwards has a Facebook page and his (third) soon-to-be-wife posts much about her life with him on the social network platform. The 16-year-governor is in the spotlight again. The couple attends public events, tours the state promoting his biography, and might participate in a reality television show in the near future.

Edwin Edwards is a retired lawyer and politician, but he never seems to quit being an entertainer. How far is he going for publicity?

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May 092011
 

prison tower

Louisiana State Prison tower

As administrations of former Louisiana Governors, also incumbent Governor Jindal has made a growing economy in the rural state his priority number one. The Republican tries to create new jobs by attracting investors, i.e. companies, to Louisiana, and his promise to “veto any tax increase that comes to [his] desk” is his bait. Jindal explains that higher “taxes kill jobs and opportunities.”

Jindal’s intention aparently is to make Louisiana a tax haven for businesses hoping they will employ (more) people from Louisiana. Halliburton, headquartered in Houston, Texas, is his latest acquisition for his re-election campaign. (Governor Jindal’s term expires on January 9, 2012.) In the first week of April of this year, Jindal’s administration announced that Hulliburton would open a manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. The company will produce “complex machined components for oilfield service operations” and create 150 direct and 350 indirect jobs, writes Governor Jindal on his blog.  Louisiana’s most profitable branche is the oil industry. Thus, Jindal presses for the permission of drilling from the federal government despite the oil spill one year ago.

At the same time, renewable energies, as e.g. wind power or solar energy, get momentum in Europe. The automobile industry works hard on improving new types of motors that are independent of fossil fuels. But the thinking in the oil state Louisiana has not changed yet.

Imagine you have lots of oil and nobody needs it! Jobs seem to be a free ticket for nearly everything in politics. As long as something creates jobs, progressive changes are not made, and chances are that it is subsidized by the state, i.e. the tax payers. Another example is the prison industry.

One chapter in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is entitled “Local Prison Industry.” A new discussion about this issue began when Governor Bobby Jindal formally submitted his Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Executive Budget to the Legislative on March 11, 2011. 

There is a US$1.6 billion gap in the Pelican State’s household next fiscal year (2011-2012, beginning on July 1, 2011), unless the government increases taxes or cuts spending. Jindal opposes higher taxes. The consequence is that there must be some savings somewhere. But where? Jindal’s proposal is, among others, to sell three state prisons

1.      the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, Louisiana

2.      the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, Louisiana (already privately run)

3.      the Winn Correctional Center in Atlanta, Louisiana (already privately run),

and to downsize the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville, Louisiana, from a 580-bed state facility to a privately run 300-bed prison.

Corrections workers of Avoyelles Parish in particular, spearheaded by former Representative Raymond Laborde (he spoke up for a state prison in his home parish in the 1980s to decrease the locally high unemployment rate), current State Representative Robert Johnson (his term expires on January 9, 2012) and Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, III, have answered with a protest movement. They rallied and attended a hearing at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Their slogan is “Save our prison, save our parish.”

The current discussion is “state prisons versa private prisons.”

Arguments pro private prisons:

·         Private prison operators run prisons at a lower daily rate per offender than the state.

·         The sale of the state prisons would help bridge the US$1.6 billion-gap in the household’s budget in the fiscal year 2011-2012.

Arguments contra private prisons:

·         Jindal’s plan does not make any sense to Raymond Laborde who rhetorically asked the Associated Press, “Sell my house today and rent it tomorrow?”

·         Private corporations make profit and can generate huge amounts to contribute to political campaigns. Sponsored, elected officials then can return the favor with policies that benefit the donors.

·         Prison staff is reduced and replaced by high-tech cameras.

·         Telemedicine increases to save transportation costs for ill inmates.

·         Reduced pay and benefits for employees.

·         There are fewer programs to prepare prisoners for life after their release.

·         Private corporations invest less than the state to train their corrections workers.

·         Cuts in state jobs would have a snowball effect in rural Louisiana. It would increase unemployment, have a negative effect on the financial stability of families, and limit their buying power in the community.

However, I believe the State of Louisiana could save much tax money and would not need to privatize state facilities if the actual roots of the problem were solved. The USA, often dubbed the “Land of the Free,” has the highest incarceration rate worldwide, and Louisiana is the number one prison state nationwide. Go figure: Louisiana alone is the number one worldwide! Why is that?

·         Too many things are criminalized in Louisiana.

·         Too many non-violent offenders occupy prison bunks.

·         The penalties often are too long and do not have a rehabilitative effect.

·         The existing penal system is too expensive and eats away funds for social services, basic education, and health care.

·         There is something seriously wrong when politicians use fear of crime and unemployment to incarcerate masses of people at the tax payers’ expense.

There are several facilities in Avoyelles Parish. The collection consists of the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, the Avoyelles Bunkie Detention Center, the Avoyelles Women’s Center in Simmesport, the Avoyelles Simmesport Correctional Center and the main Avoyelles Parish Jail at the Sheriff’s Office in Marksville. Only a juvenile correctional facility and a federal prison are missing yet. But this may change soon. According to an article by The Advertiser, the Lafayette Regional Office of Juvenile Justice announced last Friday that Avoyelles Parish now is one of five interested parishes that would welcome a new facility for troubled Acadiana youth in its area.

The forum of the Innocent in Prison Project International provides much info on the issue Prison Industry here.

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