Apr 12, 2017 | In the News, Law & Crime

ST. MARTINVILLE — U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, met with local ministers and others about re-entry into society by prisoners Tuesday afternoon in St. Martinville.

Higgins, who said he has been running from one engagement to another early this week, had about 10 minutes to speak to those attending the small event. The topic on everyone’s mind was Higgins’ position on re-entry for prisoners.

Among those on hand was the Rev. Wilfred Johnson, who runs A New Chapter Transitional and Re-entry program, which provides the formerly incarcerated with the basic necessities of life as they integrate into society again. Also attending was James Windom, who oversees a re-entry program in the Baton Rouge area.

Higgins, who represents the 3rd District, was met with a round of applause when he entered the room. He immediately began shaking hands with 20 or so constituents.

After that, he started talking about his time so far as a congressional representative and the time spent in Washington, D.C.

One of the biggest questions concerned the bustling activity in Baton Rouge, not Washington. The Louisiana legislature is set to vote on a bill endorsed by Gov. John Bel Edwards that drastically decreases Louisiana’s prison population by an estimated 13 percent.

If it passes, those on the ground in local communities battling recidivism will be faced with dramatically more ex-inmates who need to re-integrate into society. Johnson’s program and others are not funded by any government entity, and supplies, like toothbrushes, that they offer to those let out of prison are donated.

“What we’re trying to find out is what (Higgins’) office plans on doing to help support and finance programs like ours,” Johnson said.

Higgins said combating recidivism would not only get less people out of jail, but also provide a larger tax base and economic gains.

“I believe it’s a righteous investment of the people’s treasure to invest money into well managed re-entry programs that help willing desiring young men and women that want to get a job,” Higgins said. “We should find a way to help them train for what they really want. It begins in their heart, they have to want it.”

The format was a little brief for those in attendance to dive deeper into the issues, but after Higgins had left, some said they were satisfied.

“He seems to be very passionate,” Windom said. “I look forward to talking with him about this more in-depth.”

Higgins will speak Thursday in New Iberia at a town hall meeting at the Steamboat Pavilion in Bouligny Plaza. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

Corey Vaughn, The Daily Iberian

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