July 1, 2015 02:10 PM

[SOURCE: March 18, 2014, “Recidivism in Adult Corrections” report by the Louisiana Department of Corrections]

[Editor’s Note: This is the second story in an ongoing series The Independent hopes will help voters understand the important decision they will make in the Oct. 24 election to replace retiring Sheriff Mike Neustrom.]

When it comes to the people caught up in our criminal justice system, the first 24 hours are the most crucial. From the second a person is locked behind bars, a countdown is underway for them to get released from jail in 24 hours or less. It’s an unnecessary yet very real race against time — one that’s run daily by a group comprising mostly decent people whose biggest crime is being guilty of poor judgment, addiction or mental illness.

For those with the resources to beat the clock and post bail within that 24-hour window, chances are they’ll likely never be seeing a jail cell from the inside again. But for those without the necessary resources, the people the clock was designed to beat — if they’re still in jail when that 24 hour buzzer dings, odds are they’ll be coming back for another stay behind bars at some point in their future. And most likely, they’ll face longer sentences than the people who manage to get out before 24 hours passes, even when arrested for the same crime.

It’s like walking through a college campus — that feeling of being smarter just by exposure alone. Jails are the same: Hang out in one long enough and you’ll come out just like a legit academician; another jailhouse graduate with a degree in the criminal arts. All the data show it’s true: Spend more than 24 hours in jail, and you’re four times more likely to be reincarcerated somewhere down the line.

Since 1980, the federal prison system has exploded. In those 35 years, the federal

inmate population has grown from 24,640 to a June 2015 count of 208,388. Nearly 6,000 of these inmates are housed in federal facilities here in Louisiana. Locally, the inmate population living under the watch of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office is around 1,600 offenders. Well over 900 of these are inmates imprisoned in the Downtown jail. Three-quarters of these people are in jail over a simple misdemeanor, and about 60 percent of these inmates are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. The majority of their stay will be spent awaiting their day in court to finally see whether they’ll be charged with a crime or released onto the streets after three months in jail. For the unfortunate majority, this means a crash course in crime thanks to the all veterans in the field who tend to hang out in jails with nothing to do and loads of time to kill.

This problem is major, not to mention crazy expensive. It’s also not without a solution.

Here in Lafayette, we’re demonstrating how this solution is beneficial to the whole community. And we’ve been using it for almost 10 years, ever since Sheriff Mike Neustrom put his experiment in diversion programming into motion. As you may have read in part one of this series (our May cover story), Neustrom’s approach is not the norm — in Louisiana or for most of the nation — but it is the future of the American criminal justice system; and it is slowly starting to spread.

So who are the people of diversion?

They’re people like Gerald Joubert, Spurling Prejean, Carl James Harrison, Tyler Solomon: They’re our fellow Hubcitizens, our neighbors. They’re good people, smart, spiritual, driven and hopeful about their futures. Like all of us, they just want to better their lives and their community.

Probably the only real difference is that unlike the majority of us, their path up the ladder is being guided by our local criminal justice system. And their lives have all been changed for the better because of people like Neustrom and those he’s brought into his administration over the last 16 years to use diversion programming as a way to help society’s less fortunate successfully get off the streets and into society.

From the moment you meet them, you can see it in the eyes of those whose lives it’s impacted. I’ve seen it. I’ve studied it. And yes I’m a believer. The diversion approach to corrections is the future. And here’s something else for all you armchair preachers out there: It’s also the moral thing to do.

But now that four very different candidates are vying for Neustrom’s job as sheriff, the diversion experiment is very much in jeopardy. As put by Rob Reardon, Neustrom’s director of corrections, in part one of this series: The next sheriff can either build on what’s been done or he can dismantle it all in a day.

Drug and property crimes face higher chances for re-incarceration than inmates who committed violent crimes.

SOURCE: March 18, 2014, “Recidivism in Adult Corrections” report by the Louisiana Department of Corrections


Gerald Joubert

At age 55, Gerald Joubert is a vastly different person than he was just two years ago.

Back then, Joubert was still living under the grips of alcoholism and a longtime addiction to hard drugs. For the last 20 years of his life, he’d been trapped within a revolving door going in and out of jail, prison, back on the streets, repeat.

In September 2013, those hard-living days came to an end with an order from Judge Jules Edwards — a vocal advocate for the spread of diversion within our criminal justice system. Edwards’ sentence that day: that Joubert immediately report to LPSO’s Community Corrections Campus for drug addiction treatment and the Alternative Sentencing Program.

For Joubert, this would be life-changing.

“I’d just been arrested and charged for possession when I entered this program,” Joubert tells me from inside the fluorescent classroom where we sit and talk.

Joubert is a Level 3 within ASP. That means he’s in a more trusted role than, say, a Level 1 offender. It also means that in addition to meeting all his program requirements, he’s taking night classes and working a full-time day job driving 18-wheelers for Brinco Trucking out of Duson.

Joubert’s professional. He’s clean, sharp and spiritually reborn. His eyes reflect back a man with hope and self-respect.

60% of our local incarcerated offenders are pre-trial inmates awaiting court trials

It’s not what you’d expect from someone who spent so much of his life either in jail, prison or out on the streets where he’d smoke crack and drink hard until his next “downtime.”

“I spent a long time in incarceration, over 15 years in five different prisons,” says Joubert. “Being in jail, everything stops. You’re at a standstill. It took time for me to grow spiritually, but I learned these basic principles, moral principles. Before, I’d be out in the street high and hustlin’. Now I’m rested, I’m not on drugs. This offers you the support you need to support yourself. Yes, we’re partly incarcerated, but we still have the opportunity to stand on our own and provide for ourselves.”

Joubert has embraced ASP. The program, which has given him the skills needed to function in society, allows him to spend his nights at home. But he’s quick to tell you it’s not been easy. In fact, it’s damn tough.

“You’re expected to find a job, stay clean, meet with your case manager, attend class if you’re scheduled, be where you’re supposed to be.”

Joubert’s two years in, and he says he’s feeling pretty accomplished. He can look to the future now and see good things.

Five years down the road from now? “I see myself with a good job, I’m on my way to owning my own home, my own land and my own rig,” he says. “I’ll have savings, a checking account; being able to pay bills, having life insurance, health insurance.”


Carl James Harrison

For Carl James Harrison, it was a misdemeanor arrest for theft that landed him in the parish jail in January. Unable to make bail, Harrison spent the next three months behind bars.

“It’s not comfy,” he says of the experience. “The thing I hate most about jail is when they handcuff you and bring you down that hall and say that’s your roommate, slam the door and then all hell breaks loose. Can’t do nothing but hear that noise. It would make me just say, ‘Lord, get me out of here.’ Honestly, I was really scared because of my lifestyle.”

Harrison is an openly gay black man.

He’s 50. He’s from Lafayette. And like Joubert he’s sharp, well-spoken and spiritually recharged.

He too has hope-filled eyes. “I just kept praying, ‘Lord please get me out of here,’” Harrison recalls. “But I stayed in for three months, and it was the longest thing I’ve had to do. I thank God the program finally came up.”

He remembers the day his prayers came true, the day he got the news he’d be getting out, going home — that he’d be getting a second chance, at an education, at life; a chance to change the course of his future.

“I remember he said they’ll work with me and get me in this program that would help me better myself, get my GED. I was like, ‘Yes,’ and right there’s where I told myself I would stick with it. I don’t want to ever be back in that cell, and this place is not a cell. It’s like a home. Here, you have to come in, take your drug test, go to all your classes and then your case managers work with you, show you what to do. Each night we get to go home after class, cook, cut the grass and then come back the next morning and do it over again. It keeps me off the streets, because that is where I was before.”

Harrison recalls first entering ASP, when walking was his sole mode of transportation. Harrison’s case manager asked one day if there was anything he needed. Guidance? Any assistance?

Finding out he’d been going to and from campus every day by foot, trekking more miles than many walk in a week, Harrison’s counselor responded the next day by giving him a bicycle. “That’s how much they love us and want to see us do better through this program,” he says. “They really do.”

“I want to be here. Here you can do work, talk to your case manager, go to lunch. There are expectations. I’m glad they sent me here, because I have a responsibility now, I have freedom. I’ve learned to respect myself, walk with my head up knowing I’m free and I’m in the program; that’s my family, and I’ll continue coming here.”


Tyler Solomon

Tyler Solomon is 22 years old. She’s soft-spoken. She’s a mother. She’s also been in and out of jail on two occasions in recent years. And like her fellow ASP classmates, she’ll tell you jail’s no place to be.

“To be honest, it sucks,” Soloman says of the experience. “People just don’t like Pkwy. Supporting you for no Sponsor: reason. I was there for about a week the first time.

The second time I was there for three weeks. First was for stealing and then for a mental illness-related issue. If it wasn’t for this program, I would still be suffering from my mental issue. I’m truly thankful I have someone like my case manager to work with me on my life.” Supporting Sponsor: She’s learning basic skills she somehow missed out on. She’s becoming a better Ambassador parent, learning Caffery the beauty Pkwy. of a budget, Acadiana-Mall.com how to maintain a checking account, as well as an assortment of other training offered through LPSO’s Community Corrections Center.

“Since I came to this program they’ve been helping me keep away from the bad things in life, helping me get my GED,” says Solomon. “They’ve helped me realize and Ambassador Caffery Pkwy. I have people I have to support. I’m 22 337.984.8240 years | Acadiana-Mall.com old, and I’ve got a young one to think about and take care of.”

She arrived at ASP last year, and though there’s no end date in sight as to when she’ll become a graduate — “it’s to be determined” — she’s OK with that. Like her classmates, she too enjoys her time on campus, bettering herself through everything offered by ASP.

“I like it because it gives me the chance to play with my kid at the end of the day,” she adds.

Asked where she hopes to be five years in the future: “Married, still having one kid, a nice house, happy.”


Spurling Prejean

Spurling Prejean is in his early 30s, recently engaged.

And he’s a father. That’s what landed him in jail in fact; that and a string of bad luck: lost job, money problems, unable to pay his monthly child support for his four young kids. The state took one away and Prejean soon found himself behind bars, locked up in the parish jail.

Prejean tells me he’s also battling a weed addiction. So far he’s winning, thanks to the program, he adds. Prejean’s enrollment in alternative sentencing was the result of a judge’s order in late March.

“Don’t take nothing for granted,” Prejean advises. “While incarcerated, that’s where I really found God.”

Like Joubert, Prejean has a day job in construction, building houses with Galloway Construction. He’s been doing this on and off four about 15 years.

As he knows so well, construction has its high and its lows. Prejean sees ASP as a game-changer. It’s a way up to the next level, an education, better job, more money and a better life with more opportunities for his kids.

“I’m in here for a GED. I didn’t finish high school,” Prejean explains. “I quit. So my goal is to finish my GED here so I can get a better job and better take care of my family.”

That’s why he and his fiancée have yet to set the big date. He says before that can happen, he must first graduate from ASP. And where does he see himself down the road in five years? “Married, building my own house, running my own construction company — I love construction work — and being a good teacher to my kids and a lot of these other youngsters out there.”

After Part 1 of this series hit stands last month, we received a poignant comment from Judge Jules Edwards of the 15th Judicial District and immediately set up a meeting with him.

In addition to handling the court’s drug cases, Edwards also plays a big role in the promotion of LPSO’s diversion programming. He’s an advocate because he knows it works. He’s also aware of the potential threat for diversion’s piecemeal unraveling by Lafayette Parish’s next elected sheriff. According to Edwards, it’s all about screening inmates at the point of intake into the jail to determine their individual level of risk; what former New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram calls the “smart statistics” or a “moneyballing” approach to fighting crime.

(It’s worth checking out her 12-minute TED Talk discussion on YouTube.)

These research-based screening models are essentially used to determine if an offender is in need of intervention as a means for reducing recidivism, as well as the individual risk level they pose if released early. It’s essentially providing a research, data-based answer to the simple question: What is the likelihood this individual will commit another crime if released and allowed to await their trial date from home?

Like many who work closely in our local criminal justice system, Edwards is deeply concerned about the future — the future of the diversion programs, our criminal justice system and ultimately our community. Though his position on the bench prohibits political endorsements, Edwards does say that electing the wrong candidate to replace Neustrom will have lasting repercussions for decades to come.

“The elimination of the Alternative Sentencing Program, or to end any of these diversion programs, would increase crime and it would increase expenses. To end these programs endangers public safety and would be an incredibly fiscally imprudent decision,” Edwards says. “This sheriff came in and selected people who were very skilled in their areas of expertise. He trained his staff to understand evidencebased practices. So if we get a new sheriff who comes in and says, ‘We’ll just start locking them all up again,’ well, while they’re in there, what do you think they’ll be doing with their time? The answer’s easy: They’ll be in those cages talking to one another. You’ll have dangerous people with non-dangerous people, or hustlers with non-hustlers. And let me tell you: Bad rubs off on good much more than good rubs off on bad.”