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|Jones updates office to expedite cases|
The 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office should have a new case management system in place by the end of the year to help move pre-trial detainees at the parish prison through the judicial system at a quicker clip.
That's according to Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones, who spoke with The Ouachita Citizen Wednesday.
"We will have a case management system by the end of this year," Jones said. "We have a case management system today, but it was designed in 1985, so it's way past being outdated. We are updating, upgrading and getting a system that will handle the volume of cases we handle today."
"This is an essential part in moving cases in a more rapid fashion," Jones continued. "We are entering the 21st century as far as case management is concerned."
Communication among law enforcement agencies is the key in the criminal justice system, and simply being able to communicate electronically could save days. Typically, it could take three days to send one piece of paper communication to an agency or an attorney down the street, Jones said.
"We are a paper-driven criminal justice system and that's so archaic, and we're changing that," he said. "We're doing a lot to try and move pre-trial detainees."
Jones said the majority of people incarcerated today at Ouachita Correctional Center are not non-violent first offenders. They are there for their second, third or fourth time, and many of them are violent offenders.
"Or they are your habitual burglar or your habitual drug dealer," Jones explained. "You certainly don't want to see these kinds of people out on the street. If you look at our population at OCC, you will not see many pre-trial detainees who are first-time offenders, and I don't think you will see any pre-trial detainee who is a first offender who is a non-violent first offender."
Regarding habitual offenders, Jones said the recidivism rate is high in the state and nation and much higher than most people imagine.
"Recidivism is very high and that's because we warehouse people," Jones said.
As long as the criminal justice system warehouses people and does little to educate prisoners and help them change their lives, they will continue to return to prison, Jones said.
"If you make them do time and let them out, what do you expect to get out?" Jones said. "You get the same thing out as you put in."
"We've got to teach them, educate them and treat them for drug abuse," he said. "We have them captive, so they're not going anywhere."
There are many options available to change the criminal justice system for the better, according to Jones. Those changes will have to be implemented because the state and the nation as a whole cannot continue to house large numbers of inmates year after year.
"We are using our jails in the state of Louisiana to treat drug problems, handle our mentally ill and do many things that the criminal justice system was not designed to handle," Jones continued. "We need to spend more money on the front end, treating kids for drug abuse, educating children against drug abuse or at least teaching them what will happen if they use drugs.
"We need to invest in the child before the child reaches the criminal justice system. If we do that, then we are going to cut the cost of incarceration tremendously. One day we will do that, and the reason we will do it one day is because we will have to do it."
Working with children early on to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system will save money in the long run, Jones said.
More importantly, according to Jones, "It's the right thing to do."
"A lot of these bright-eyed kids who make mistakes and get involved in drugs are just that – bright-eyed kids who made mistakes," Jones added.
Jones taught for six years at Bastrop Junior High School. He says he knows what teenagers are capable of doing if helped along the right path.
"I know how bright-eyed they are, how eager they are to learn, and I also know how quickly we lose them," Jones said. "It's at that age we must invest our time and effort, not after they commit a crime."
He said today, more than ever, children are exposed to drugs, alcohol, violence and sex.
"It's all on TV at home, and it's everywhere you look, really," Jones said. "That's why we need to be ever vigilant in steering our kids away from that lifestyle. Until we do that, we will continue to have 40,000 people in prison on a state-wide basis, and more than two million nationally."
When Jones was elected District Attorney in 1991, there were 19,000 people imprisoned in Louisiana and 300,000 incarcerated nationally.