Louisiana is among the toughest states in the nation for repeat offenders, and the state has the country’s strictest life without parole sentencing laws. At least 15% of Louisiana’s prison population consists of people who are serving life without parole. No other state has as high a percentage. Louisiana has more inmates serving life sentences without parole than Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Taxes combined — a total of 4,700 Louisiana residents who are behind bars with no hope of ever being released.
Why has the state taken such a tough line on parole, and what can you do if a family member or loved one is facing the possibility of a life sentence in the state?
Why Does Louisiana Ban Parole for Life Sentences?
In the 1970s, after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty, Louisiana lawmakers began looking for ways to keep those serving life sentences behind bars. In 1979, lawmakers voted to abolish parole altogether for life sentences. Louisiana also has a strict second-degree murder law that treats those considered an accomplice in a crime — such as a getaway drivers — as being the same under the eyes of the law as the individual who pulls the trigger. Anyone who gets convicted is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole.
Studies indicate that in Louisiana, there are more inmates convicted of second-degree murder (51 percent of the prison total) compared to for first-degree murder (16%), according to a study by Loyola University based on data from the Lousiana Department of Corrections.
Essentially, Louisiana lawmakers decided that in the eyes of the law, “Life means life.” Even someone who was involved in a crime as a lookout or who helped with the planning can be convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. More than half of the inmates cited in the Loyola University study were under 25, and about 75 percent were African-American. These inmates will likely die in prison, since they’re being locked up forever, with no input from judges, juries or the state’s parole board.
This is true even though most other states allow most inmates serving life sentences to become eligible for parole after 20-30 years behind bars. Unsurprisingly, there are critics of the current law.
Why Do Critics Say Life Without Parole Has Failed?
Critics of the state’s sentencing laws say it’s wasteful, both of the lives of the inmates and the cost to taxpayers, to continue to incarcerate people who have “aged out” of crime and are no longer likely to commit any offenses. The entire system is simply too rigid, critics say, They cite LSU research published in 2013, which shows there are virtually no recidivism rates among former Louisiana lifers who had their sentences commuted after decades behind bars.
In fact, critics say the concept of parole was important even for those serving life sentences, since it gave each inmate a sense of hope that if they displayed good behavior, they had at least some chance of being released. Under Louisiana’s system, they note, that glimmer of hope is gone and lifers have no incentive to alter their behavior behind bars.
Are Louisiana Lawmakers Considering Changes to Life Sentencing Laws?
Some Louisiana lawmakers have also become strong critics of the law, and are trying to institute changes. In 2017, lawmakers pushed a criminal justice reform package that would make lifers eligible for parole after serving at least 30 years, or after they’ve reached age 50, excluding those convicted of first-degree murder. But that law failed to pass after the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association — which represents the state’s prosecutors — came out in opposition to the plan, arguing that it posed a threat to public safety.
That’s not the only voice in this debate. The Louisiana Department of Corrections has argued that keeping aging prisoners behind bars is too expensive — and unnecessary since it leaves the state responsible for the medical treatment and healthcare costs of elderly inmates.
This debate will continue.
Secure Quality Criminal Defense in Louisiana
If someone you know is facing a possible life sentence, it’s important to get an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. In Louisiana, a top source for criminal defense attorneys is the John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm. We have more than 25 years of experience representing ordinary citizens just like you and want to help you get your life back on the right track. It’s our mission to give you the most personalized experience possible and help you have your voice heard.
Eric Johnson is respected throughout Louisiana and is known for providing solid representation that wins cases. To schedule a free consultation regarding your case, call our office at 318-377-1555 or contact us online today. We’re here to represent you!