Louisiana’s inmates who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles could be given the opportunity to receive a parole hearing, under new legislation that has now made its way through both the state Legislature’s House and Senate.
Currently, Louisiana has some 300 people in state prisons who were sentenced to life in prison without an opportunity for parole. But those sentences for juveniles have been declared “cruel and unusual punishment” by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years.
Lawmakers under pressure from the federal government have filed a flurry of bills to put the state in compliance.
House Bill 264 by state Rep. Sherman Mack would give parole eligibility to people serving a life sentence for first or second degree murder who were juveniles at the time of their sentencing only if they have served 35 years of their sentence.
In order to receive the eligibility, they would also have to meet requirements including having a clean disciplinary record, receiving substance abuse treatment if needed, and getting a GED or other job skills certifications.
Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, attempted to attach an amendment to the bill that would offer the parole eligibility after 25 years instead of 35. He said he was concerned that the 35 year time frame in the bill would not pass the muster of the Supreme Court, noting that most states use the 25 year bench mark.
He stressed that while no one wants dangerous criminals back on the street, the bill only offers these people a hearing. But ultimately the parole board will deny freedom to offenders undeserving of a second chance.
“If I had just started listening to this debate, you’d think people were going to walk out of prison after 25 years,” Luneau said. “That’s not what’s going to happen. It allows them their first hearing, but most of these people will not get out of jail.”
Ultimately, his amendment was rejected.
The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence on other Senate amendments and then ultimately to the governor for final approval.
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