In most parts of the United States on March 5, it was just another Tuesday. However, in Louisiana, most state offices, schools and local businesses were closed to celebrate Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Parades were held, beads thrown, and cries of “Throw me something, Mister!” echoed throughout the state. Mardi Gras marks the end of the Catholic liturgical season of Ordinary Time and Wednesday ushers in the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a period of forty days marked by a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. It is a time when many Christians, notably Catholics, abstain from meat on Friday’s and “give something up” as a penance.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics will be marked with ashes on their foreheads in the form of a cross. In this outward gesture we acknowledge our own sinfulness. The priest or deacon prays these words as he marks the foreheads of each person with ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In true Louisiana fashion, we party hard on Tuesday and then humbly acknowledge our sinfulness on Wednesday. This all done in preparation for Easter, which is also time of new birth; a time for Christians to recognize their need for a savior – their need for redemption.
In Louisiana, we are a month from the start of the 2019 Legislative Session—a session in which we have an opportunity to build upon the successes of reforms to our criminal justice system that passed in 2017 and 2018. An opportunity to give people a much-needed second chance; to give people hope and an opportunity for a new life—free from barriers and roadblocks.
There is a lot more criminal justice reform work to be accomplished. Our local jails are at capacity with persons who pose little risk to public safety, but can’t afford bail. We have people spending more time than allowed by law waiting to be formally charged with a crime. We have an overloaded public defender’s office and barriers to reentry in the forms of licensure restrictions and heavy fines and fees. Millions of dollars are seized from persons without a criminal conviction in the form of civil asset forfeiture. Probation and parole, those on the front lines of the reforms, need more help and reinforcements. Together we can accomplish these additional reforms with the ultimate goals of ensuring public safety, protecting victims, restoring offenders, and saving taxpayer dollars.
The party is over, another Mardi Gras has passed, and now it’s time to prepare for the 45 days of the 2019 Legislative Session. An opportunity to continue to move Louisiana forward by ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens.