Creating a Smarter Parole Eligibility System
Where Redemption is Possible
Overly long incarceration is counterproductive, expensive and inhumane. Most people age out of crime, research shows. Yet in Louisiana, we ignore this research and reject best practices, including the recommendations made from the Justice Reinvestment Task Force, and we continue to spend millions each year on unnecessary incarceration.
The truth is that no one – not a judge; not a district attorney; not a jury; and not a victim’s family – can know who a person will become in 30 years. That’s why it is time to reform Louisiana’s parole system to create reasonable opportunities for a parole board that will determine whether prison still makes sense.
In Louisiana, there are more than 8,500 people sentenced to 30 years or more. The cost of housing people who have been incarcerated this long dramatically increases as their health declines. In most states, these convictions would not yield such long sentences. Our state needs a new, evidence-based approach that would keep our prisons and communities safer, and would save taxpayers’ money.
Louisiana is not following data-driven or research-supported policies.
• Research shows that people routinely age out of crime.
• Longer sentences have not been proven to prevent crime. In fact, long prison terms are not more effective than shorter ones at reducing the likelihood that people will reoffend.
• More than 4,700 people are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in Louisiana, representing 14 percent of the prison population. As of 2017, an additional 1,931 were serving sentences longer than 30 years without the possibility of parole.
• For comparison, 70 people were serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in all of the United Kingdom as of 2016.
Taxpayers foot the bill for increased costs as incarcerated people grow older.
• It costs two to three times as much to incarcerate someone over the age of 55 as it does for a younger person.
• The longer people stay in prison and the older they get, the more it costs the state and taxpayers to house and treat them. Prisons must provide health care to incarcerated individuals, ranging from blood pressure medicine, to dialysis and insulin, to cancer treatments.
• As of 2017, more than 1,500 people had spent more than 30 years in Louisiana prisons. It takes almost $32 million each year to incarcerate them, considering the average cost to incarcerate someone in a Louisiana prison. This does not even factor in the increased costs caused for age and medical care.
• With the most conservative estimates, taxpayers would save more than $10.5 million dollars each year if Louisiana were to expand parole eligibility.
• The state of Louisiana is being sued for its poor health care at its prisons. If these lawsuits are successful, then Louisiana taxpayers will need to pay much more to adequately care for people in prison. One of these lawsuits has already gone to trial, and is only awaiting for a ruling.
• The money Louisiana would could save by cutting overly long prison sentences could go to education, transportation, economic development or back into taxpayers’ pockets.
Louisiana’s sentencing laws are harsher than those of other states, and they eliminate any hope for redemption.
• Louisiana is one of only six states where adults who have received life sentences are never eligible for parole. This means that any time a person is sentenced to life imprisonment in Louisiana, that individual will die in prison, regardless of whether he or she has been rehabilitated.
• Louisiana and Mississippi are the only two states that mandate life sentences without parole for people charged with second-degree murder.
• In Texas, second-degree murder carries a sentence of five to 99 years, with parole eligibility after 30 years. In Arkansas, sentencing for that offense ranges from six to 30 years.
• There are more people serving life without parole sentences in Louisiana than there are in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas – combined.12
Provide individuals people who are serving life sentences with an with the opportunity to apply for parole after 30 years, and provide individuals who are serving long sentences the opportunity for a chance to apply for parole after 20 years in prison.
NOTE: Parole eligibility does not guarantee a reduced prison sentence. In 2016, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole granted parole in just 33 percent of the cases that it reviewed.