For a second year in a row, the full Senate will get the opportunity to vote on legislation that aims to free aging inmates from prison.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary B advanced House Bill 138 by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, Tuesday.
The full Senate rejected similar legislation last year.
“This bill simply allows people to earn their way out,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, told the committee.
Esman said the legislation could increase morale and discipline within the prison system and save the state a significant amount of money.
The legislation focuses on inmates age 60 or older who did not commit sex crimes or crimes of violence.
They would become eligible for parole if they meet a number of conditions. Those conditions would include:
--Having a clean disciplinary record for the year leading up to parole eligibility.
--Serving at least 10 years in prison.
--Being a high school graduate or obtaining the equivalency of a high school diploma.
Smith said Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
She said inmates only would become eligible for parole if they are at least 60 years old, have served 10 years of their sentence, are nonviolent and completed criteria.
Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Burl Cain said wardens serve in an advisory role on the state parole board.
He said inmates will not be released if victims would be traumatized.
“Victims trump,” Cain told the committee, speaking in support of the legislation.
He said the legislation targets inmates who are behind bars for crimes such as dealing drugs or breaking and entering.
Few inmates currently in the prison system would become eligible for parole under the legislation.
Cain said there are 72 offenders 60 or older who did not commit a sex crime or a crime of violence. Few of those 72 offenders, he said, have achieved the equivalency of a high school diploma, one of the legislation’s requirements for parole eligibility.
The Legislative Fiscal Office whittles down the list of who would be eligible this way:
--803 offenders have served at least 10 years in prison and are at least 60 years old.
--72 have not been convicted of a violent crime or a sex offense.
--49 are considered low risk.
--19 have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
--15 actually would be eligible.
The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates the state would save $199,885 a year if all of those 15 offenders were granted parole under the legislation.