By Marlisa Harding | American Press | October 28, 2021
A report released on Wednesday by the Metropolitan Crime Commission outlined the state of Calcasieu Parish’s criminal justice system. The report looked at over 9,000 cases that went through the 14th Judicial Court over 2015, 2016 and 2017 and identified the system’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We wanted to see what the benchmarks were in the system,” Rafael Goyeneche, MCC president, said of the non-profit’s long-range study. The report analyzed police, prosecutors, and the parish’s judiciary.
“Calcasieu has more of a crime problem than other communities in Louisiana,” Goyeneche said, and arrests have been consistently ticking up since 2015. However, he added, in order for the data to be truly useful, looking at arrests alone would be insufficient.
“The job is not over at arrest…The objective is to hold people accountable. You don’t hold them accountable if charges are dismissed.”
The good news for the parish’s law enforcement and judicial entities is that the vast majority of felony arrests have not been frivolous based on former district attorney John DeRosier’s acceptance of the charges. “What we saw was over the three-year period of time was acceptance rates were 90 percent for felonies…The sheriff’s office is doing a good job of not just documenting probable cause but also providing sufficient evidence.”
Issues were found, however, with the number of felonies which were eventually posted as misdemeanors once they made their way through the court systems, such as in the case of drug possession and theft.
The national standard for felony convictions is typically 54 percent and in Calcasieu it was found to be 46 percent, Goyeneche said. In analyzing the possible reasons for the discrepancy, he suggested, “Maybe police were overcharging a certain percentage of marijuana offenders?”
If that were the case, he added, Calcasieu’s felony conviction rate would exceed the national average.
Regardless of the reasons, the purpose of the study is to shed light and increase communication between all law enforcement bodies, Goyeneche reminded. “If there’s better communication, particularly for the down charges and refusals, that will alleviate problems we’re seeing.”
All in all, the current systems in place are “generally working well between police and prosecutors,” but Goyeneche provided a few practical tips for improvement including increased use of electronic monitoring and diversion programs for felonies to help reduce recidivism.
Because a draft of the data was released last year, Stephen Dwight, district attorney, said his office is already implementing some of the suggestions revealed in the study, including new guidelines and new programs including a diversion program for felonies. “More communication is always better for the system and the citizens,” Dwight said.
Tony Mancuso, sheriff, likewise, said the department is committed to improving for the betterment of the entire system. “I think Rafael opened my eyes. I used to think, ‘Hey look, we did our job.’ But there really is more to it than that,” he said.
The Sheriff’s office now has a representative working at the DA’s office to help with case management, a plan Mancuso said will help improve communication between the two bodies. He also said he is a firm believer in the use of electronic monitoring to help reduce recidivism.
“We’re just going to build on what was in this report whether it’s directly about us or the totality of it, because ultimately we’re just trying to make a more efficient system overall.”
To read the full report, visit https://metrocrime.org/lake-charles/.