Committee to examine criminal justice system in Lafayette

Advocate staff photo By BRAD BOWIE -- Members of the criminal justice coordinating committee, from left, Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, Sheriff Mike Neustrom, Judge Kristian Earles, District Attorney Michael Harson, and Police Chief Jim Craft on Wednesday morning. Show caption
Advocate staff photo By BRAD BOWIE -- Members of the criminal justice coordinating committee, from left, Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, Sheriff Mike Neustrom, Judge Kristian Earles, District Attorney Michael Harson, and Police Chief Jim Craft on Wednesday morning.

Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom is in the early stages of forming a committee of law enforcement officials, judges and others to take a broad look at the parish’s criminal justice system.

The committee, Neustrom said, is a policy board that would devise ways to improve an imperfect system that now is a department-to-department operation where employees rarely look beyond their own doors.

“The problems with most jurisdictions is you’ve got a lot of different people doing their own thing in isolation, not together,” Neustrom said. “This is an attempt to coordinate and unify parts of the system, which is difficult.”

The team Neustrom has enlisted so far, which could become Louisiana’s first criminal justice coordinating committee, includes such well-known names as Neustrom, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft, City-Parish President Joey Dural and chief administrative officer Dee Stanley, Judges Marilyn Castle and Kristian Earles, Clerk of Court Louis Perret, District Attorney Mike Harson, and school Superintendent Pat Cooper.

Michael R. Jones, a consultant for the National Institute of Corrections, steered the Lafayette group’s first meetings in two four-hour sessions in March. He gathered information about the Lafayette jail system, from arrest to adjudication.

Jones said he plans to deliver a report next week that will build on the March sessions.

“The justice system in any jurisdiction is inherently fragmented because you have different levels of government — county, state and even interaction with federal,” Jones said. “They all have a hand in the criminal justice system.”

The levels and sources of funding of government entities are different, as are “mandates and priorities, yet they all have a hand in the criminal justice system,” Jones said. “When offenders, defendants get processed in the justice system, all that interacts to make it inherently disjointed and difficult.”

He likened the situation to “having 10 people hanging onto the steering wheel while you’re trying to drive a car.”

One of the people who would sit on the committee is Rob Reardon, who for 12 years has run the 954-bed Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.

Reardon said there have been no recent occurrences in which all the jail beds at LPCC were occupied but there were bottlenecks in 2011.

Reardon said he doesn’t want to end up in the kind of bad situation that the New Orleans jail system finds itself in.

“You don’t want to be in that situation where you have the Department of Justice looking at you and you have potential federal court decrees,” Reardon said.

Neustrom said he got the idea for establishing a criminal justice coordinating committee at a National Institute of Corrections conference last year in Norman, Okla., when he talked to Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Jones said the organization he consults for, the NIC, is an arm of the Justice Department. He said the work he is doing for Lafayette Parish is paid for with federal tax dollars.