Gloria Williams 2

Gloria Williams, 73

Louisiana's longest serving female prisoner was one step away from earning release after almost five decades behind bars when she was hospitalized with coronavirus last week.

Gloria Williams, 73, better known as "Mama Glo" among inmates and prison staff, received a positive recommendation from the state Board of Pardons and Parole last summer after board members deemed her rehabilitated. She has spent the past nine months waiting to see whether Gov. John Bel Edwards will agree with the board, which would allow her sentence to be commuted. 

Then she could be released but would remain on supervision indefinitely. 

She's one of an estimated 200 inmates who have similarly won the board's approval but are awaiting the governor's signature. Commutations are a rare form of clemency typically granted to people serving long sentences for serious crimes. 

Williams was sentenced to life without parole for second-degree murder in the 1971 fatal shooting of an Opelousas grocer during a planned robbery.

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Edwards' office said Wednesday he hasn't had time to consider her application since he "has been focused on the COVID-19 response in Louisiana."

"The governor is actively pursuing all methods of reducing the prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic, including accelerated consideration of pending clemency applications for inmates with comorbidities," spokeswoman Christina Stephens said. State leaders also announced last week a plan to grant medical furlough to a limited number of nonviolent offenders within six months of their release date.

Williams was incarcerated at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, which has seen the largest coronavirus outbreak among the state's eight prison facilities. So far 54 women there have tested positive, according to Department of Corrections data. 

Williams was hospitalized Saturday and is receiving oxygen treatment, according to criminal justice advocates following her case.

"People like Ms. Williams are precisely who Gov. Edwards should have been releasing," said Mercedes Montagnes, executive director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. "The inaction of the governor and the Department of Corrections to protect our vulnerable incarcerated population has put thousands of lives at risk."

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