With Mark Garber set to take the reins of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office on July 1, longtime Director of Corrections Rob Reardon has made a surprising announcement, saying he'll be following Sheriff Mike Neustrom when he leaves office at month's end.
Reardon's announcement comes as a bit of a shocker after he publicly supported Garber's bid for sheriff during last year's election. Garber, the thinking went at the time, was the candidate most likely to keep alive the various diversion and rehabilitation programs set up during Reardon's 15-year watch at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
Yet, according to recent media reports, Garber has already begun making big organizational changes, including the naming of the former longtime assistant warden at Louisiana State Penitentiary, Cathy Fontenot, as the new director of corrections. Reardon, per Garber's changes, would have continued overseeing the diversion and rehabilitation programs.
But Reardon says it's time to move on.
"I've been doing this a long time, 27 years, and locking people up doesn't work," Reardon tells The IND in an interview Thursday afternoon. "I've been exposed to so many systems across the country. I was just in Washington, D.C., a couple weeks ago for a data-driven justice initiative, and I talked to so many different counties across the country that have developed systems where they're bringing mentally ill and people dealing with substance abuse issues actual services instead of entangling them in the criminal justice system. There are opportunities for me in that, and I figured it's time for me to make this change now and allow Sheriff Garber to put in who he wants and the programs he wants."
Since coming to Lafayette Parish 15 years ago, Reardon helped usher in radical ideas about how we approach crime and punishment here in Louisiana. Instead of locking 'em up and throwing away the key, Reardon has helped bring about alternative ideas, approaches that instead focus on turning offenders into productive citizens.
One area, however, that Reardon wishes he could've been more effective is in the realm of drug offenders and the mentally ill.
"The reality is that we processed 12,987 people through the jail last year, and 80 percent of those people were suffering from substance abuse and/or mental illness," he says. "We do crisis intervention but don't have the resources to really meet those needs. I've seen other systems across the country that are much more able to reach those people right at the point-of-contact instead of just locking them up."
Moving forward, this is where Reardon wants to focus his attention, wherever that may be.
"I've just been thinking about where I can have a larger impact," says Reardon. "We have done great things here; I'm not trying to minimize that. I've heard a lot of people say we're a model for the state. I'm gracious about that. But ultimately, I want to go somewhere where I can have a bigger impact."
And for the big question on everybody's mind: Will Garber keep in place what Neustrom and Reardon helped create?
"I don't know," says Reardon.