[UPDATE: The state Senate, a day after it rejected a measure to increase parole options for some prison lifers, about-faced Tuesday and approved House Bill 543 with a 23-12 vote. According to The Advocate, Democratic state Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas is among the four lawmakers who changed their votes.]
Louisiana will continue to hold the title of the “world’s prison capital” following a state Senate vote Monday that killed the chance for nonviolent felons serving life sentences under the state’s habitual offender law to be granted freedom.
The Senate voted 19-18 against House Bill 543, according to The Advocate, with two of the nay votes coming from the Acadiana delegation. State sens. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, voted against the prisoner reform bill:
The state Senate was the last stop in the legislative process for the proposal, which breezed through the House and a Senate committee. A favorable vote would have sent the bill to the governor’s desk.
The Legislature passed a law in 1996 allowing offenders convicted of three felonies to receive life sentences. He said legislators later changed the law to ensure it only applies to violent crimes. Left in prison ... are those sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent felonies before the law changed.
State law prohibits inmates serving life in prison from being eligible for parole, unless their sentences are commuted to a fixed number of years.
HB543 would lift the prohibition on parole eligibility for offenders not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes. The offenders still would have to go before the Parole Board for a decision on their release applications.
Under the bill, inmates would have to behave behind bars, complete any necessary substance abuse treatment and obtain the equivalency of a high school diploma or other educational offerings. The legislation would only make them eligible for parole.
The legislation would exclude sex offenders and those convicted of violent crimes.
The move comes only a week after The Times-Picayune unveiled “Louisiana Incarcerated,” an eight-part investigative series on the state of Louisiana’s prisons that explains in detail the profit-driven business of Louisiana’s prisons and the laws on the books that contribute to the state’s obscene incarceration rate.
As noted by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, the bill was a “reasonable” attempt to curb the state’s status as the “incarceration capital of the universe.”
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