Danae Columbus: Conservative think tank predicts more criminal-justice reform in Louisiana

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

A substantive prisoner re-entry program that includes rehabilitation and job training is “really critical” to reducing recidivism, said Pelican Institute for Public Policy CEO Daniel Erspamer at an YLC Leadership Luncheon last week. Pelican, a nonprofit libertarian-leaning think tank that develops data-driven policy solutions, works to bring jobs and opportunities back to Louisiana by eliminating barriers to success. It also coordinates Louisiana’s Smart on Crime business-led coalition that successfully lobbied for criminal justice reform. Since 2017, the coalition has been monitoring the implementation of the new laws and planning future steps.

Ninety-five percent of the men and women who go into jail come out. Re-entering society is not an easy process, especially for ex-offenders who do not have appropriate job skills or supportive services to guide them. For far too many, re-entry becomes “a revolving door and a pathway back to a life of crime“, Erspamer explained. To reduce recidivism, which is a key component of criminal justice reform, financial resources should be focused on the “highest risk” offenders. “We want to help real people live better lives.” In states like North and South Carolina where re-investments have already been made, the overall cost of operating the prison system has come down. Recidivism also exacerbates the state’s labor shortage problems.

Citizens deserve a fair, just and effective criminal justice system. New Orleans struggled with crime after Hurricane Katrina which led to increased recidivism, said Erspamer. While millions were being spent to address the problem, taxpayer dollars were not being used effectively, he continued. Today with increased public acceptance and more targeted services, ex-offenders have a greater opportunity to rejoin society. Regaining voting rights is an important step in building self-esteem.

Erspamer’s remarks were sponsored by the industrial equipment supplier Laitram L.L.C, whose President Jay M. Lapeyre Jr. has spearheaded Louisiana’s Smart on Crime efforts since its inception. Establishing trust between the diverse organizations that came together via Smart on Crime took many hours of face-to-face coalition building and goal setting which helped define message and purpose. Honesty by all participants was essential throughout the process. Though the group does not meet as frequently as in past years, a common commitment to continued reforms is strong.

“We at the Pelican Institute proudly joined Smart on Crime and all of the varied allied organizations supporting criminal justice reform in Louisiana,” said Stephen M. Gele, Pelican Institute Chairman. “Lives are being changed for the better. Louisiana is becoming safer. Taxpayers are being better served. Pelican will continue to fight for freedom and opportunity in Louisiana on multiple fronts, including reigning in civil asset forfeiture, as well as promoting workplace freedom, educational choice, and responsible budgeting, restrained spending, and transparency by all levels of government.”

The Pelican Institute will hold their 2019 Solutions Summit March 28 at the Capital Hilton in Baton Rouge. Legislators, community leaders and policy experts will come together to discuss such key issues as taxes and the state budget, k-12 education, legal and regulatory and further criminal justice reform. General registration is still available.


With House District 100 Rep. John Bagneris’ decision to seek the State Senate 5 seat being vacated by the term-limited J.P. Morrell, potential candidates including Jason Wynne Hughes are seriously looking at the race to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat. An active member of the I.D.E.A. political organization, Hughes has the experience and contacts needed to be a successful candidate.

“Many citizens of District 100 have asked me to run. I honestly have not made a decision but will continue to give it prayerful consideration,” said Hughes last week.

Hughes has previously worked for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Governor Kathleen Blanco and Senator Mary Landrieu as well as Stand for Children. He served as Chief of Staff for the 100K Strong Foundation and is currently vice chairman of the City Planning Commission. Bagneris has indicated he will support Hughes’s candidacy: “Jason has been very helpful to me over the years,” said Bagneris. Hughes was a candidate for the District 100 position in 2015 but was disqualified for failure to file taxes in 2010.


While most New Orleanians are celebrating Mardi Gras, Kirk Williamson is on his way to Korea on behalf of the U.S. Navy where he is a high-ranking officer in the Navy Reserves. Said to be one of the state’s foremost experts on the Korean peninsula, Williamson served four years of active duty and has been in the reserves 12 years. He is expected to run as a more conservative alternative to incumbent State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty in a district that includes parts of Orleans and Jefferson Parish.

A husband, father and contractor with strong ties to the homebuilder’s association, Williamson is an active Republican and current vice chair of the parish Republican committee. Though not yet prepared to make a formal announcement, Williamson said his main issues will be education and health care. He also strongly believes a new state constitution is essential to Louisiana families and that many of the state’s funding dedications must be re-visited. “Before any discussion on new taxes, we need to re-prioritize how current state funds are being spent,” Williamson said.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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