St. John D.A. launches effort to eliminate repeat offenders

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE — Why do the same criminals seem to keep committing crimes?

It’s a question people ask themselves after reading an arrest-related article in L’OBSERVATEUR ending with something along the lines of “He has been arrested 35 times in St. John the Baptist Parish since 1999.”

It seems safe to say if the answer to recidivism was simple, so would be the solution. Instead of simply pondering on the problem, St. John Parish District Attorney Tom Daley and his office devised a plan to combat it.

Daley, with the help of Assistant District Attorney Phil Maples and other members of the 40th Judicial District Attorney’s office, recently launched The St. John Coalition to Combat Recidivism and Impact Lives, which seeks to unite community members, organizations, schools, employers and religious leaders in an effort to combat parish crime rates.

Maples, who worked as a parole officer before attending law school, said the program is Daley’s brainchild. Maples said he is happy to help spear-head the initiative, which has a long-term goal to provide every person who comes in contact with the parish’s criminal justice system with a web of supportive professionals.

“I say a web because a web is sticky and catches people,” Maples said. “We want to catch people and throw them back into the right direction.”

Approximately 600 people are currently on parole or probation in St. John the Baptist Parish. This program, Maples said, has the possibility to transform their lives.


The five-person web offered to all offenders is designed to include a mentor, caseworker, social worker, vocational counselor and a diversion coordinator or probation officer.

Maples said the partnership with the local churches is a primary component of the employment initiative, and by working at the churches, the participants will learn new skill sets and be exposed to Christian mentors.

The Rev. Neil Bernard, pastor of New Wine Christian Fellowship, was the first to sign on.

“This program gives people an opportunity for a second chance,” Bernard said. “It creates a net that gives people the greatest chance to succeed.”

Bernard currently has three workers through the coalition working at his church.

Maples said he was there when one of the young men started at New Wine, and recounted how proud he was to be employed.

“There was a sparkle in his eyes,” Maples said. “That look was worth all my work.”

The idea is the team will work together and provide support that would result in prevention of new offenses and a decrease in setbacks in the lives of the program participants.

First, while in jail, the offender will be offered a personal mentor.

The mentor’s primary role will be that as an encourager to the offender, working to “breathe some life into them,” Maples said.

He said he would love to use mentors from local faith-based organizations, and has had success securing mentors from local churches, including New Wine and LifeHouse Church.

“I truly believe we need the support of the faith-based organizations in the parish to make this a success,” Maples said.

Second, while in jail, the offender will meet with a caseworker, who will collect data on the offender including family history, substance abuse, gang involvement, employment history, education and physical and mental health.

After reviewing the data, the caseworker will make recommendations to address that offender’s specific needs. Pursuant to the caseworker’s recommendation, the offender will begin standardized pre-release and re-entry curriculum classes of 100 total hours.

Maples said the classes cover topics that include life skills, critical thinking, goal setting and anger management.


Third, while in jail and once released, the offender will be assigned a vocational

rehabilitation/occupational therapist called the job placement coordinator.

This coordinator will meet with each offender to give advice on résumé creation and potential job opportunities. The coordinator will consult local business and industry to determine job needs and advise offenders on specific opportunities and needed skillsets.

If needed, the participant will be instructed on where to receive additional skills training and professional courses or licenses, such as TWIC and OCEA cards.

Maples said the coordinator would also go over job-interview etiquette, including proper dress.

Fourth, while in jail and once released, the offender will have access to Licensed Clinical Social Worker Galen Schum, who will meet with each offender whose offense history indicates a substance abuse problem, make an assessment and then refer the offender to the appropriate level of treatment.

Fifth, each offender will have a probation or parole officer who will provide a source of encouragement and counseling, as well as an active law enforcement presence to administer immediate action and consequences should violations occur.

“It’s one life at a time,” Maples said about changing the crime culture and rates of St. John Parish.

He said the idea of locking someone up and throwing away the key does nothing to solve crime problems, because when offenders are released they have little community support and lots of trouble finding jobs.

The coalition is in its infancy, and to get started it has launched an employment component aimed to reduce a released-offender’s idle time.

Offenders who are subject to be released on parole and offenders who will be sentenced to probation will be given the opportunity to participate in the program, which includes several components.

The first is 20 churches are being sought to commit to employing one worker who will work 20 hours per week at minimum wage.

Other components of the employment initiative include reaching out to minority businesses, grocery stores, fast food restaurants, Walmart and local industry to employ past offenders. Maples said that as word has spread about the program, businesses have become receptive to the concept and have begun to offer jobs to people in the program.

Maples said he has met with St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre and local business leaders about the coalition and is eager to continue spread the word about the positive work being done to combat crime and change lives.

“We want this to change people from the inside out,” Maples said.