Juvenile Life Without Parole: "You Guys Have to Fix This"

Apr 19, 2017

The session’s first criminal justice reform bill is headed to the Senate floor. SB 16 by Dan Claitor addresses the problem of those previously sentenced to life without parole when they were juveniles.

Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson explained the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that penalty unconstitutional in several cases.

“All of these cases now tell us that children are constitutionally different than adults in their level of culpability. Young people are impulsive, they make bad decisions. And I had even prepared a story from my youth, but I won’t tell it here today,” the Chief Justice said, to appreciative laughter from those in the Senate committee room.

The most recent ruling came in 2016, saying states must retroactively make parole available to those sentenced when they were juveniles. About 300 Louisiana inmates fall into that category.

“Of these 300 juveniles, what are their crimes?” Senator Bodi White asked Claitor

“It’s murder,” Claitor replied.

Then Claitor had a question for Corrections Secretary Jimmy Leblanc: “If the parole consideration was set at 30 years, how many of those 300 would be immediately parole-eligible?”

“Looks like 89,” Leblanc said, after consulting some paperwork.

Witnesses and lawmakers discussed shorter and longer terms before making application for parole available, as well as asking whether there was a legal definition of “the worst of the worst”, as cited in the SCOTUS ruling. (There isn’t.)

Then Claitor asked Leblanc about the cost of keeping these offenders in prison, versus letting them out under supervision.

“The savings side of it?” Leblanc asked, for clarity

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re going from roughly $60 a day to $2 a day,” the Secretary advised.

The consideration of money upset Bodi White.

“I sit here for two hours, I never heard the word ‘victim’! And every one of those folks that are serving life, there was a victim of murder. Besides, I’m not so sure our law doesn’t meet muster now.”

Claitor reminded him of the title of the 2016 case.

“That is Montgomery v. Louisiana, so it currently does not pass muster,” Claitor said. “We’ve been told by the United States Supreme Court, ‘You guys have to fix this’.”

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