Louisiana Senate votes to eliminate life sentences without parole for juveniles
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Julia O’Donoghue of NOLA.com reports that the Louisiana Senate voted 22-13 to completely eliminate the sentence of life without parole for people convicted of crimes they committed as juveniles. Instead, all people given life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles would come up for parole eligibility after 25 years behind bars, as long as they meet some other good behavior, educational and risk assessment requirements (NOLA.com).
If the bill passed in its current form, 14 people currently in prison would immediately become parole eligible, according to Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the author of the bill. This doesn’t mean that those 14 people would be released, rather that they would be entitled to a parole hearing for the first time in decades.
Senate Bill 16 still has to be taken up by the Louisiana House. But it is one of 10 bills in Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ criminal justice package and the first piece to get a vote on the floor of either chamber (NOLA.com).
Louisiana doesn’t have much of a choice but to find some way to offer people given life sentences as juveniles an opportunity for parole. The U.S. Supreme Court has told Louisiana that juveniles cannot be sent to prison without an opportunity for release except in extreme cases (NOLA.com).
In two different cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that Louisiana’s practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole is cruel, and should only be used in rare circumstances (NOLA.com).
Experts have said people who commit crimes as children, in particular, don’t necessarily carry that type of troubling behavior into adulthood. Teenagers are impulsive and prone to rash actions because their brains aren’t fully developed, according to scientific studies. The decisions they make when they are younger, aren’t necessarily the same decisions as they would make as adults, the Supreme Court determined.
A discussion of people sent to prison as juveniles might conjure up images of young men, but some of the people affected are actually among the oldest inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Clifford Hampton, 76, could become parole eligible if Claitor’s bill was adopted. He was convicted of two murders — one in 1959 in St. James Parish and another in 1962 in West Feliciana Parish. He came to Angola 55 years ago, when he was 17 (NOLA.com).
The legislation the Senate ended up approving was far more lenient than what had emerged from a Senate committee last week. Amendments made by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, on the Senate floor completely removed all opportunities for district attorneys to sentence someone who was convicted of a crime while underage to a life sentence without parole (NOLA.com).