Habitual Offender Criminal Attorney New Orleans
If you are being charged of a crime as a Habitual Offender, Contact attorney Elizabeth B. Carpenter. Our firm is ready to fight for your freedom.
SUMMARY OF THE MULTIPLE OFFENDER LAW – La R.S. 15:529.1
The District Attorney may charge a person as a multiple or habitual offender after that person has been convicted of more than one felony.
A felony is any crime which is punishable by imprisonment at hard labor. Common felonies include theft and receiving stolen things valued over $300.00, nearly all crimes of violence and drug crimes, burglary, issuing worthless checks over $100.00, and many other crimes.
After the first felony conviction, the penalties for all subsequent felony convictions become much more severe. A prior conviction in any state or country may be considered if the crime would be a felony in committed in Louisiana.
On a second felony conviction (one prior conviction) the minimum penalty is ½ the maximum term of imprisonment applicable to a first offender; the maximum penalty is double the maximum term of imprisonment applicable to a first offender.
On a third felony conviction (two prior convictions) the minimum penalty is 2/3 the maximum applicable to a first offender; the maximum penalty is double the maximum applicable to a first offender. However, if the last and two prior felony convictions were for crimes of violence OR sex crimes against a person under 18 OR drug crimes punishable by ten years or more OR any crimes punishable by twelve years or more, the sentence for the 3rd felony conviction is NATURAL LIFE imprisonment without parole.
On a fourth or subsequent conviction (three prior convictions) the minimum penalty is twenty years at hard labor and the maximum penalty is NATURAL LIFE imprisonment without parole.
No conviction may be considered if the defendant has satisfied the 10 year cleansing period, beginning the date of release from actual custody or supervision by the Department of Corrections for probation, parole, or supervised good time, and ends on the date of the commission of the latest offense.
No sentence imposed under 15:529.1 may be suspended and the defendant may not be placed on probation. Most of these sentences are without reduction for good time.
In calculating whether a person is eligible for sentencing as an habitual offender, the sequence of offenses and convictions must be: commission of offense A, then conviction of offense A, then commission of offense B, then conviction of offense B, then commission of offense C, the conviction of offense C. Convictions on the same day for several district offenses committed in different incidents do NOT count as one conviction. See: State v. Michael Johnson, 2003-2993 (La. 10/19/04), 884 So.2d 568.
Each prior conviction must have been with counsel or an expressed waiver of counsel, and there must have been a complete Boykinization. Prior adjudication as a multiple offender is not required.
Defendants convicted of certain crimes which became felonies due to repeat offender status may not me multiple billed (such as repeat offender theft, possession of marijuana, convicted felon with firearm). However, those convictions may be used as prior (predicate) offenses if subsequently the defendant is convicted of another felony.
New Orleans Drug Crimes Defense Attorney
Serving Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. John, Baton Rouge, St. Charles, Plaquemines Parishes.
New Bill Would Eradicate Mandatory Minimum Sentences For
Marijuana Possession In Louisiana
Both the Louisiana House and Senate will reconvene for the 2013 Legislative Session in April 8, 2013. As an attorney, I subscribe to email alerts regarding legislative news. This evening I was thrilled to see a proposed bill that would eradicate mandatory minimum sentences for Marijuana Possession.
This bill is House Bill 103, sponsored by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. The proposed bill will lessen penalties for repeat offenders and not subject offenders to Louisiana’s Habitual Offender Law (RS La 15:529.1). This new law would also apply to synthetic cannabinoids.
I am actually opposed to the legalization of synthetic cannabinoids due to the severe health complications associated with its use. Of course, complete legalization of Marijuana would obliterate the demand for synthetic cannabinoids.
As a final thought, I think that Representative Badon is going to have a battle to fight in Baton Rouge over this new bill. The state and local governments as well as substance abuse clinics love the money that they can extort out of people who are found guilty of Marijuana Possession.
The following is a chart demonstrating the proposed changes to the law:
If you or a loved one has been charged with a Marijuana Offense in New Orleans area. Contact a New Orleans Drug Crime Attorney – Elizabeth B. Carpenter. We offer discounted fee for Marijuana Offenses!
Criminal Defense Attorney New Orleans
Elizabeth B. Carpenter, Esq. – Serving clients in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne, Tangipahoa, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Tammany, St. John, Assumption and Plaquemines Parishes.
Life-without-parole sentences for juveniles declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court
Life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, according to a 5-4 opinionMonday morning from the U.S. Supreme Court that involved a 14-year-old convicted of murder in Alabama. Evan Miller was convicted of arson and murder in Lawrence County, but his life without any possibility of parole sentence violates the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, according to the justices.
The opinion was written by Justice Elana Kagan. The ruling, which also includes a case from Arkansas, is another in a line of decisions that don’t allow the criminal justice system to give up hope that the youngest criminals can be rehabilitated.
“By requiring that all children convicted of homicide receive lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole, regard- less of their age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes, the mandatory sentencing schemes before us violate this principle of proportionality, and so the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment,” according to the opinion that was just released this morning.
The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which advocates for an end to lifetime mandatory sentences for youth, said that Louisiana has 332 youths serving life terms. That’s the third highest in the United States, behind only Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to the group.
“(The decision) will impact Louisiana significantly because we do have mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenses,” said Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Kaplan, though, is reading the Supreme Court ruling, just out this morning, and says she’ll have a more thorough analysis later.
The four justices that dissented include Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia.
Powerful Interests Obstruct to Reforming the State’s Draconian Sentencing Laws — Part 4 of a 7 Part Series
Louisiana Is The World’s Prison Capital
Criminal Defense Attorney New Orleans
Elizabeth B. Carpenter, Esq. – Serving clients in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne, Tangipahoa, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Tammany, St. John, Assumption and Plaquemines Parishes.
Prison Sentence Reform Efforts Face Tough
Opposition in the Legislature
There was optimism in the air on the chilly day in January 2011 when Gov. Bobby Jindal announced an ambitious effort to overhaul Louisiana’s sentencing laws. A bipartisan cross-section of law enforcement leaders surrounded the governor in the Capitol’s fourth-floor conference room. Sheriffs, district attorneys and judges were there. So were leaders of the state House and Senate, along with good-government groups and national criminal justice experts.
For the first time in a decade, a political consensus was emerging that it was time to reduce Louisiana’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate. In the past two decades, the state’s prison population has more than doubled, with one of every 86 residents serving time.
Weeks later, the 22-member state Sentencing Commission, revived by Jindal after years of dormancy, produced a package of bills aimed at tackling some of the key factors driving the increase, including long sentences for nonviolent crimes and large numbers of offenders being sent back to prison for violations of parole or probation.
The five bills would eventually pass and get signed by the governor, but only after the most important parts — the ones that would have actually reduced prison sentences — were removed under pressure from sheriffs and district attorneys.
This year, though, two of the commission’s failed measures from the previous year were revived and have progressed smoothly through the Legislature, with Jindal’s backing. The measures are unlikely to have a substantial effect on the incarceration rate, and the cost savings will not be immediately apparent, but their passage provides a ray of hope for reformers.
Even as prison populations have strained the state budget and prompted fiscal conservatives to join liberals in calling for changes, the political calculus in Louisiana has evolved slowly since a series of tough sentencing laws in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s bloated the state’s inmate counts.
If anything, the balance has remained tilted toward law enforcement. After a prison-building boom in the 1990s, Louisiana sheriffs now house more than half of inmates serving state time — by far the nation’s highest percentage in local prisons. Their financial stake in the prison system means they will lose money if sentences are shortened. They typically house the same drug pushers, burglars and other nonviolent offenders who will be the likely targets of any serious efforts to change the system.
“The three easiest votes for a legislator are against taxes, against gambling and to put someone in jail for the rest of their lives,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, a veteran policymaker who has led the judiciary committees in both the House and Senate.
Still, reformers are not giving up. They vow to chip away at Louisiana’s prison problem, one small-scale measure at a time. The success this year of the Jindal-backed bills is a sign that the climate might be shifting slightly, prompted to some extent by a state fiscal crisis.
“Given the differences we had last session with the sheriffs and the DAs, where we ended up unwittingly at an impasse, we had an incredibly great session with the sheriffs and the DAs,” said Judge Fredericka Wicker of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, who has been a leader on the Sentencing Commission, of this year’s deliberations. “There was a strong sense from both groups that they agreed with the entire package.”
Ellis “Pete” Adams has seen attempts at sentencing reform come and go in the 35 years since he became head of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. At least four or five sentencing commissions, maybe a half-dozen, have convened — he can’t recall the exact number. The results of those long-forgotten efforts sit in a file cabinet in his spacious office, their recommendations rarely enacted.
“It usually arises (and) gets momentum when there are fiscal problems,” Adams said. “That’s when the confluence of conservative and liberal thinkers happens. The push for reducing the cost of corrections meets with the liberal view that, you know, our correction system is too harsh.”
That was certainly the case in January 2011, when Louisiana was facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall and the Jindal administration was looking for ways to cut costs. The governor had made no secret of his desire to reduce recidivism and get incarceration costs under control, but to that point there had been little action.
“Certainly, it makes sense for us as a state to be reducing our recidivism rate and focusing and prioritizing our resources,” Jindal said late last year.
The Sentencing Commission’s current incarnation was designed from the start to be different than its predecessors. Past commissions have sometimes been dominated by outside groups with plenty of proposals for change but little idea of what could realistically get through the Legislature. They left behind well-meaning reports that now are mostly forgotten.
“You had basically reformer-types who were driving the recommendations, and whatever they would recommend, there really wasn’t enough stakeholder input and buy-in for the Legislature to pass those things,” Adams said.
In the newly formed commission, sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, victims advocates, public defenders and key legislators all had a voice.
By working through policy differences at the commission level, supporters hoped any bills that emerged would have enough momentum to convince recalcitrant lawmakers that they wouldn’t be punished politically for votes an opponent might characterize as being soft on crime.
There was good reason to get sheriffs and district attorneys on board early. Veterans of earlier efforts said it’s virtually impossible to get anything through the Legislature without support from those two critical groups.
“It’s not going to work if you have the DA association in an opposing role,” said former state Sen. Donald Cravins, an Opelousas Democrat who led efforts to revamp the state’s juvenile justice system in the early 2000s. “And the sheriffs’ association likewise. (Otherwise) you will never resolve it.”
That was the spirit in which the Sentencing Commission began its work. “The agreement we have with DAs and sheriffs (is) ‘We’re going to work together and we’re all going to support what comes out of the Sentencing Commission,’â” Jindal said.
Working on a compressed timetable with the 2011 spring session approaching, the panel decided against tackling some of the more volatile issues and instead settled on a package of five bills dealing with parole, good-time credits and home incarceration.
To carry the most far-reaching measures, the commission tapped state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, who had arrested hundreds of suspected criminals as a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy and later helped prosecute them as an assistant district attorney.
“The bottom line is, if locking everybody up and throwing away the key works, then we should have the lowest crime rate in the United States,” Lopinto said. “We don’t. So then you have to really look at your policies. In my opinion, it’s strictly a fiscal issue.”
One of Lopinto’s proposals was intended to reduce the number of nonviolent, low-risk offenders in prison by speeding parole eligibility. Nonviolent felons made up 82 percent of the 17,223 admissions to Louisiana prisons in 2009, and Lopinto’s original bill would have required first- and second-time offenders to be considered for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentences, down from as much as 50 percent.
Third-time offenders, who currently are not eligible for parole, would have been eligible after serving half of their sentences.
Another Lopinto measure was aimed at simplifying the “good time” provisions that allow inmates to reduce their sentences by behaving themselves behind bars. Critics complained that the current laws were a confusing patchwork that made it difficult for judges and prosecutors — let alone inmates and their families — to determine how much time needed to be served.
As the 2011 bill was originally drafted, it would have simplified the formula and changed it so that nonviolent offenders had to serve a minimum of 40 percent of their sentence, down from 46 percent, before they could be considered for good-time parole.
To be more palatable to the Legislature, both bills were designed to apply only to future offenders. Prisoners who were already locked up would have to live by the old rules.
Thus, the projected savings were small at first: The parole bill would have saved $6 million in the first year but more than $75 million over 10 years. The good-time bill was projected to save $4 million initially but $253 million over the course of a decade — money that would come from reducing the number of nonviolent, low-risk inmates serving time in local prisons.
Nevertheless, the parole bill quickly ran into trouble. Days after the session got under way in late April 2011, the District Attorneys Association voted to oppose the measure. As a result, the governor’s office quickly sent word that it could not support the bill and would consider a veto if it reached Jindal’s desk.
Just like that, the political cover the Sentencing Commission was designed to provide had largely vanished.
By the time the parole bill got to the Senate floor during last year’s spring session, it had been stripped of its original cost savings and only applied to first-time offenders — a fraction of those the commission had hoped to address.
Adams, the district attorneys’ lobbyist, said a “communications problem” was to blame and that the group had never agreed to support Lopinto’s bill if second- and third-time offenders were included.
“As late as when the bill got to the Senate, we had the lobbyist for the Sentencing Commission telling folks that the DAs had supported that earlier. That had never happened,” Adams said.
A similar fate befell the good-time bill, only this time it was the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association that put up the roadblock.
With the governor’s staff indicating that a veto might be coming if law enforcement wasn’t on board, Lopinto quickly agreed to shelve the formula changes and thus any potential savings that would come from shorter sentences.
The turnabout surprised everyone, including Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc. “We thought we had consensus when we went,” LeBlanc said.
Wicker and other key Sentencing Commission members were determined to avoid misunderstandings this time around.
After a yearlong series of public meetings and painstaking word-by-word edits, the commission’s 2012 legislative package appeared to have every interest group’s stamp of approval.
Perhaps for that reason, the eight proposed bills were less far-reaching than 2011′s relatively modest package. Taken together, the 2012 measures would not make much of a dent in the prison population or result in substantial cost savings.
Still, they were tiny steps away from Louisiana’s airtight tough-on-crime stance and toward more discretion for prosecutors and judges.
Then, at the February meeting where the commission was to finalize the package, a Jindal aide spoke up. The aide, Cloyce Clark, had attended all the previous meetings and even helped draft some of the legislation. Suddenly, he was pushing for changes that had not been vetted by commission members.
Clark wanted to kill a proposal to remove attempted crimes from the list of violent crimes requiring enhanced sentences. Another proposal would have allowed prosecutors to seek sentences below the mandatory minimum for all but the most serious crimes — an option that is unlikely to be exercised often but that allows for leniency in unusual cases. Clark asked that all violent crimes and sex crimes, not just the most serious, be excluded.
After heated debate and a few dissenting votes, the commission complied with both requests.
In fact, the most significant proposals to be associated with the commission in 2012 are versions of last year’s parole and good-time bills, which are not officially part of this year’s package but are considered to have the commission’s endorsement. Lopinto introduced the measures with the backing of the governor and the Department of Corrections once it was clear that the sheriffs and district attorneys would stand down.
The Political Will
George Steimel, a veteran lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the lack of progress in 2011 was a failure of political will.
“We know where the money-savers are. We know how to reduce the population,” Steimel said, discussing the reform package’s failure last year. “It’s the political will to do it, and that’s what failed this session.”
Martiny, the Kenner senator, said it’s hard to blame legislators, who are elected by the same voters who put the district attorneys and sheriffs in office. He cited his own efforts, earlier in the decade, to pass a series of changes to Louisiana’s troubled juvenile-justice system. Then, as now, it took months of careful negotiations to get DAs on board before his colleagues felt comfortable.
“If you give a legislator the opportunity to go either with the Innocence Project or with their DA, guess what? They’re going to vote with their DA,” Martiny said.
Still, veteran lawmakers say the political equation at the Capitol has shifted somewhat since the early 1990s, when crime rates were peaking, the victims-rights movement was in its heyday, and lawmakers were in a rush to pass mandatory minimum sentences.
The convening of the Sentencing Commission, at Jindal’s behest, was one sign of a new openness to reform. There are other signs that the mood might be changing at the Capitol and that lawmakers might be able to reduce sentences without the feared political repercussions.
Signs of Change
The revamped parole and good-time bills have sailed through the Legislature this session after Jindal agreed to support them and the law enforcement lobbies agreed not to oppose them.
One bill, which increases the rate of good-time accrual for nonviolent offenders, was signed by the governor last week, at a potential cost savings of $2,000 to $5,000 per offender.
Another bill makes second-time offenders eligible for parole after serving 33 percent of their sentences instead of the current 50 percent. It awaits the governor’s signature after passing the House and Senate by large margins.
The two measures apply only to people sentenced after Aug. 1, 2012. Any impact on the incarceration rate, the state budget and the sheriffs’ prison operations will be years down the road. But their easy journey through the legislative process thus far may signal some cracks in the tough-on-crime wall.
As in other states, an increasingly dire budget situation means that interest groups are feeling pressure to tone down their agendas and support cost-saving measures.
The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association decided not to take a position on either bill this year, despite opposing last year’s good-time measure. Sheriffs are mindful of the state’s financial problems, even as their top priority continues to be public safety, said Michael Ranatza, the group’s executive director.
“In these economic times, we’re generally understanding of the plight of the state of Louisiana,” Ranatza said. “We want to be good statesmen, and we’re aware of the tremendous economic woes.”
District attorneys, who opposed key aspects of last year’s parole bill, decided they could live with this year’s version after the minimum time served was adjusted down to 33 percent of a second-time offender’s sentence, rather than the 25 percent originally proposed. Sex offenders and habitual felons would not be eligible for the early parole.
“If somebody appropriate for parole happens to qualify, and we save money and do it without risk to public safety, that’s a great thing,” said Adams of the District Attorneys Association. “The budget is shrinking. If we can save money without increasing risk, we’re open to these kinds of things.”
Steimel attributes the gains in the 2012 legislative session to several factors. Last year was an election year, making everyone — sheriffs, district attorneys, legislators — wary of rocking the boat. This year, a fresh crop of lawmakers is getting its bearings in Baton Rouge and may be more open to a different way of thinking. And there are the fiscal pressures making voters more likely to accept giving criminals a break if dollars can be saved.
“This is probably the best time to start this type of movement and reform, to start educating this new legislature,” Steimel said.
Louisiana Is The World’s Prison Capital
Criminal Defense Attorney New Orleans
Elizabeth B. Carpenter, Esq. – Serving clients in Orleans, Jefferson, Terrebonne, Tangipahoa, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Tammany, St. John, Assumption and Plaquemines Parishes.
Angola Inmates Are Taught Life Skills,
Then Spend Their Lives Behind Bars
ANGOLA — People always said Johna Haynes was lucky because of the white hair that sprouted from the crown of his head since he was a baby. He acquired the nickname “Patch” from New Orleans police officers, who came to know him all too well. At 31, the patch has turned into a bald spot, the pale strands now dispersed throughout his close-cropped dark hair, leaving him prematurely gray. “And still lucky?” someone asked.
He looked around incredulously at his surroundings — a late summer Sunday afternoon in the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s west yard, men playing basketball and lifting weights, stray cats sunning themselves on concrete ledges, an idyllic scene if one did not look to the barbed wire fences in the distance.
“I’m lucky I’m alive,” he finally said.
Something — the white patch, divine intervention or just plain luck — spared Haynes from a violent death, the fate of his brother, stepfather, stepbrother, cousin and innumerable friends. It did not spare him from another well-traveled path out of the Florida public housing complex: the winding, achingly bucolic bus ride to the penitentiary commonly known as Angola, where his own father served more than a decade and where Haynes is slated to spend the rest of his life without the possibility of parole.
Haynes estimates he stole at least 160 cars and committed at least 130 robberies in a brief, prolific criminal career before he was locked up forever at the age of 21. When he worked at a Shoney’s restaurant in Metairie, he never once took the bus — he always arrived in style on stolen wheels. The guns he took from parked cars at Carnival parades or the Bayou Classic became the guns he carried while selling drugs and the guns he used to rob people.
He was shot at many times and watched others die, but he was never hit. Nor, he said, has he ever killed anyone. His dangerous lifestyle caught up to him in a different way — life without parole for pointing a gun at a man and making off with his car and valuables. Two previous convictions, for stealing a car and for trying to escape from police custody, made Haynes a habitual offender. A young thug was off the streets for good.
Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of its citizens serving life without parole, fueling the state’s world-leading incarceration rate. Angola is clogged with prisoners who will grow old and die there. Like Haynes, many arrived as young African-American men from rough neighborhoods who wrote themselves a ticket to either prison or an early death by embracing the lawless ethos of their peers.
Some criminal justice experts believe life without parole should be reserved for heinous murders, solely as an alternative to the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court recently did away with the sentence for juveniles who have not committed murder; Haynes was barely out of his teens during his final armed robbery.
Yet it may have been Angola, and a life sentence, that saved Johna Haynes. Now, he wants a chance to show that he has changed.
A gun-toting menace does not transform overnight into a model inmate with a Bible in his back pocket.
Wilbert Rideau, the condemned murderer turned world-famous prison journalist who was freed in 2005, writes in his memoir that his own awakening at Angola came about gradually. Through reading books, he discovered a world beyond the brutal, impoverished one he knew.
Arriving at Angola in August 2002, Haynes spent more than a year laboring in the fields and living in a tiny cell among the worst of the worst. Good behavior eventually made him eligible for a spot in the main prison, with its dormitory-style sleeping quarters, vocational classes and inmate-led clubs. Once considered the bloodiest prison in the country, Angola is now known for giving lifers, who make up nearly three-quarters of its population, the chance to build meaningful lives behind bars, even as they are unlikely to taste freedom again.
Murderers and rapists have embraced the prison’s wholesome, Christian-influenced values. Cursing is banned for inmates and staff alike. Violence is rare in the minimum- and medium-security dormitories where most of the 5,100 inmates live. The men make wooden toys for needy children, teach each other the piano or banjo, preach through self-run religious organizations and entertain the public at the famous twice-yearly rodeo.
A seventh-grade dropout, Haynes completed his GED certificate and studied auto mechanics. He began reading on his own, partaking of the “locker library” run by literary-minded inmates who trade well-worn paperbacks out of the metal chests that hold all their earthly possessions. He became a devout Christian.
As with Rideau a generation ago, it was not any one moment but an accumulation of small moments that made the armed robber into the bookworm. It took being in prison, completely cut off from his old ways, for Haynes to realize that the law of the jungle — preying on the weak, selling drugs, getting killed over a few hundred dollars or a down jacket — was not the way most people lived.
Haynes is now a sophomore in the Angola Bible college, an extension of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary — the only bachelor’s program open to prisoners, leading to a B.S. in Christian ministry. He hopes his four children — a son, two daughters and a stepdaughter — will have the future he did not.
“The change I’ve undergone is for the best, because had I not straightened up I would most likely be as many of my friends who are deceased,” Haynes wrote in a letter. “It hurts me to know that a lot of them lost their lives before they even got to see life. But that pain has an element of positivity to it because I use it as fuel to power my dreams.”
Getting an Education
Angola is like a 9th Ward reunion. The man who used to sleep in the bunk above Haynes was a classmate from Carver Elementary. Haynes’ uncle is a fellow inmate. More than a dozen friends from the old neighborhood are now permanent companions at “The Farm.”
At Haynes’ urging, his two younger brothers moved to rural north Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina to escape the temptations of the street. Dwight Haynes made a new life for himself in Winnsboro.
The other brother, June, went back to New Orleans and was shot dead last February, at age 21. Johna Haynes called the killing “the worst thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been living.”
“There’s always periods in your odyssey where you feel like, ‘Man, I’m ready to leave this alone. I want to be with my kids. I want to have a family. I’m tired of looking behind my back,’ ” Haynes said. “But you just don’t have the education to get a job that’s going to provide for you. That I’m going to be a CEO today? You can’t say that. You can be a laborer; you can be a burger flipper or something like that.”
In prison, Haynes is finally getting the education that could have led to a better job on the outside. Heading to a tutorial for an electrician certification exam, Haynes grabbed a book to supplement the Bible he always carries. “I need something to read if there’s any down time,” he explained. His possessions, spread on his narrow bunk, could be cleaned up later. No one would steal from him, he said, since he has long ago established his reputation as someone not to be messed with.
A husky 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 280 pounds, Haynes has a broad face that breaks easily into a bemused grin when recounting the absurdities of his former criminal lifestyle. A tattoo of his mother’s name, Rachel, is visible above the neckline of his prison-issue white T-shirt. Janay, for his oldest daughter, is inked on his left arm, near a long scar where he was stabbed as a teenager in a fight over a girl. In 10 years, he has left the 18,000-acre prison once, to receive treatment for a stomach ailment.
To stay abreast of new technology and avoid becoming a Rip Van Winkle if he is ever released, he saves news clippings about Facebook and Twitter. He reads a trade magazine for chief financial officers, in case he achieves his dream of running a mobile car detailing and air-conditioning repair business. The flashcards he keeps in his jeans pockets are covered with words he wants to remember: “verve,” “esplanade,” “tetchy,” “detritus,” “paleontologist,” “saké.”
When he was running the streets, he had no need for books. Now, his body trapped, the life of the mind beckons. Cicero, Khalil Gibran, George Bernard Shaw and the 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards are a refuge from the humiliating routines of prison life — stopping whatever you are doing to be counted three times a day; eating beans, rice and cornbread when you crave a pork chop; sleeping in an un-air-conditioned dorm with 80 other men at the height of Louisiana summer. Over the years, Haynes has scrounged a few extra towels to stuff under his bedsheet, making the stiff plastic mattress a touch more comfortable.
“I saw the cherry blossoms from Angola; reading is my escape,” he wrote of the Japanese novel “The Makioka Sisters,” set in pre-World War II Osaka.
‘A more moral person’
By Haynes’ own reckoning, he would have remained a thug at heart, ready to resume terrorizing innocent New Orleanians, had he received a shorter sentence at a prison that did not offer as many opportunities for self-improvement. He is unexpectedly candid in acknowledging that he needed a life sentence to appreciate the value of his life. But there needs to be an out, he said, a way to show that, after 10, 20 or 30 years behind bars, he is no longer a threat to society.
Louisiana lifers used to get out on parole after serving 10 years and six months. The law was changed in 1979 to “life means life.” Since then, Angola has been filling up with men who, barring a rare reprieve, will spend the rest of their lives there. The pardon board only intervenes in extraordinary cases, and even then, governors are reluctant to sign the release papers, fearing a politically damaging relapse.
“See, a lot of time when dudes come to prison, if their sentence is short, they can’t wait to go home,” Haynes said. “You have to put the person in the situation where it’s like cornering a cat. You’re going to go into this corner, and the only way you’re going to come out is as a changed person. If I’d had five years or 10 years, I don’t think I would have made this type of change.”
For Haynes and others like him, change means scrapping a violent, revenge-filled moral code reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys. The code requires that he kill anyone who disrespects him or his family. It allows, even expects, that he steal: “If I want it and he got it, I’m ‘a get it’ (from him),” in Haynes’ words.
Yet Haynes recalls simple acts of kindness from his youth in New Orleans, the nation’s most murderous city. He looked after a paralyzed neighbor, giving beer and massages to the wheelchair-bound man. He entered narrow passageways ahead of his companions to protect them from any gunfire that might be directed at him.
Troy Delone, one of Haynes’ closest friends at Angola, has become a religious man and a scholar in prison. When the two met in 2003, they were close in age, both from New Orleans housing projects, both deciding whether to try something new or keep bucking the system.
“Should I put myself in prison, while in prison? Stay in the cell blocks, Camp J — when is this going to stop?” as Delone put it, referring to the maximum-security parts of Angola where troublemakers reside with limited access to recreation or education.
Delone, 33, is a senior in the Bible college and a mentor in the Orleans Parish Criminal Court’s re-entry program for young offenders. He is serving two sentences of life without parole for a pair of armed robberies.
“Although he wasn’t that much on a positive road, he was always intelligent, book-wise,” Delone said of his friend. “Since then, he’s enhanced that. He’s grown spiritually and become a more moral person. More of the old Johna is diminishing, and he’s becoming a new person.”
Delone himself has changed so much in speech and manner that his street cred has diminished. The younger inmates he mentors regard him with wariness until he convinces them that he grew up in the Iberville projects and used to be just like them.
The other day in class, Haynes impressed John Robson, the college’s director, with an impassioned speech about the corrupt values he once lived by. A second-year student in a class of 100, he is a standout.
“He is really articulate. He is exceptional in his articulation, very transparent. He’s a blue-chipper,” Robson said.
Born to a Life of Crime
Although he barely knew his father, Haynes followed square in the old man’s footsteps. When he was born on Jan. 19, 1981, his father, Melvin Jones, was serving time at Angola for killing a man in a bar fight. When Haynes entered prison himself, his then-girlfriend was pregnant with his son, Johna Jr., now 10.
Haynes’ role model growing up was an older cousin named Turk, who schooled him in the ways of the street. By the time Turk died at 19 in a hail of semiautomatic fire, he had taught his protege well. Young Johna knew how to steal without the slightest prick of conscience, to keep a handcuff key in his pocket in case he was arrested, to target Dodges, Chryslers and Jeeps because they did not need to be hot-wired but could be started with a screwdriver in the ignition. He sold his first drugs at 11, pocketing a commission from a crack dealer who feared the buyers were undercover agents. At 13 and 14, he was peddling rocks with Turk in the Calliope housing project.
His mother, Rachel Haynes, who gave birth to him when she was 14, stayed in an abusive relationship with Johna’s stepfather for years before striking out on her own. She raised five children on welfare and then on a restaurant cook’s meager salary.
Johna, her oldest, was a bright student, but finishing his assignments early only gave him more time to goof off in class. After he dropped out in seventh grade, the authorities made him enroll in alternative schools, but he never lasted long.
“I was a single parent. I did the best I could. He was always in trouble,” Rachel Haynes said. “I told him, ‘Johna, you have to stop. The streets are going to catch up to you.’ … I wish he would have changed when he was out here and I was begging him to change.”
Stints in Orleans Parish Prison did nothing to scare Johna straight. At 18, riding in a stolen car on the way to a party, he tried to rob two men of their gold jewelry using a pellet gun. One of the victims had a real gun and shot Haynes’ 13-year-old friend. Even though he knew the police would come looking for him, Haynes kept vigil at the hospital for his young friend, who died that night.
In the squad car, Haynes’ handcuff key served its purpose. He jimmied the lock and made a run for it. He was never prosecuted for the attempted pellet gun robbery but was sentenced to a year for the attempted escape.
“I’m really not sure how many cars I stole. A number like 160 is pretty high, but it might be low,” Haynes wrote recently. “I remember a time when I was counting all the people I’ve robbed — I got up to 134 or 130. I hate these numbers! But guess what, I have no secrets. I appreciate where I’ve been, it just makes where I’m headed more beautiful. As for the cars, I’ll go with the 160, though it’s modest.”
On June 11, 2001, nearly a year after his release from prison, Haynes shoved a lady’s stocking over his head and pulled a gun on a man named Curtis Aubry outside an auto body shop on St. Roch Avenue. He grabbed Aubry’s possessions — two rings, a watch, a bracelet and $500 — and took off in Aubry’s car.
“It’s like once you do it, it’s addictive, it gratifies. Why sell drugs for 12 hours when you could steal it from someone?” Haynes said, recalling his former mindset.
After a half-day trial, an Orleans Parish jury found the 20-year-old guilty of armed robbery. Judge Julian Parker gave him the maximum — 99 years without parole — before then-District Attorney Harry Connick’s office upped the ante, charging him as a triple offender. On May 24, 2002, Parker resentenced him to life without parole.
Four days after Haynes committed his final armed robbery, the law changed. Louisiana legislators decided the two prior offenses on a multibill had to be more serious than those Haynes had racked up for auto theft and the escape attempt. The change did not apply to crimes that occurred before that date.
For Haynes, the downgrade would have made little difference, even had it applied retroactively. Ninety-nine years without parole for the armed robbery — a crime he admits he committed — still would have put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Burl Cain is perhaps the most famous prison warden in the country because of the many films and books documenting life at Angola. Short and heavyset, his square face topped by a thatch of white hair, he delivers bon mots in a thick Louisiana drawl.
“Thug,” “pure rogue” and “animal” are some of the terms he uses to describe many of the newly convicted criminals entering his prison.
Yet he is a firm believer that “really horrible people” can change. Even Telly Hankton, who recently shocked New Orleans with the audacity of his brutal revenge killing and attempts to tamper with the justice system, could become a new man at Angola.
“I won’t be here, but in 25 or 27, 28 years, it’ll be interesting to see what he’s like,” Cain said of Hankton.
Louisiana is one of six states where all life sentences are handed down without the chance of ever going before a parole board. First- and second-degree murderers automatically receive life without parole, on the guilty votes of as few as 10 of 12 jurors.
Nearly 12 percent of Louisiana inmates, or more than 4,500 people, are serving life without parole — the highest proportion in the nation, according to a Sentencing Project report. While most have committed violent crimes, nearly one in 10 are locked up forever on drug or other nonviolent offenses. Three in four are African-American men.
In Texas, less than 1 percent of state prisoners are serving life without parole; the figure in Tennessee is 1.3 percent.
Cain sides with those who find the sentence morally objectionable because it assumes a person cannot be rehabilitated. Lifers like Johna Haynes should get periodic hearings before a parole board, Cain said — by no means a guarantee of release, but a chance to prove that a drastic transformation has taken place, provided the victim does not voice strong objections.
“I absolutely don’t believe in it,” Cain said, “because when you say, ‘Life without parole,’ you’ve given up on the criminal and said, ‘You cannot be helped and therefore you’re going to stay in jail until you die.’ ”
At Angola, a new arrival cannot be housed unless someone else is transferred out or dies. With three-quarters serving life without parole and one-quarter at least 50 years old, medical costs are skyrocketing at the same time the budget is shrinking due to state cutbacks. The much-praised hospice program, where younger inmates care for the dying, was born of necessity. At an average of $63.15 a day, a lifer who enters prison in his early 20s will cost taxpayers over $1 million if he lives past age 70.
Once a slave plantation, Angola is still a working farm, with thousands of acres of corn, peas, squash, beans and other crops under cultivation. But there are no longer enough able-bodied inmates to work the fields — only about 300 or 400, compared with 1,000 in past decades. The rest are too old or have graduated to other work assignments. Last year, Angola had to import workers from another state prison to bring in the harvest.
“I’m worried about prison being a place for predators and not dying old men,” Cain said. “That’s what it’s really for, and I want predators, sleeping in these beds, that’s going to hurt you — instead of a bunch of old men that’s creeping around on their last legs costing my budget a fortune.”
Cain occasionally advocates for inmates before the pardon board, but only a select few he believes have zero chance of committing another crime. By the time a man is into his 50s, “criminal menopause” has set in, with statistics showing older parolees much less likely to become repeat offenders. Known for infusing Angola with religion, Cain said Christianity provides a convenient package of values but is not the only path to change.
Rehabilitation is a slow process. It takes at least 10 years for change to take root, Cain said, and more like 20 to 25 to completely exorcise the criminal within. By that measure, Haynes is only halfway there. Even if he truly changes, his path to freedom is narrow. The law that allowed for his life sentence is no longer on the books, but at every stage, the odds are heavily stacked against tampering with a court’s verdict.
For tough-on-crime advocates, long sentences remove dangerous people like Johna Haynes from the streets, while also acting as a deterrent. People are capable of changing, but they should not be released from the penalty they brought on themselves, said Irv Magri, a former New Orleans police officer and president of the victims rights group Crimefighters.
“It may be harsh, but if you could pass a bill requiring life imprisonment for anyone pushing heroin or cocaine above a certain number of grams, I’m telling you, your crime rate is going to drop tremendously. They’re going to go somewhere else,” Magri said.
Hope For His Children
In ornate, left-tilting script, Haynes writes letters to his four children, taking care with his grammar and spelling to set a good example. He urges them to stay in school and out of trouble, to aspire to college and a good career, to not let the many family tragedies get them down.
They rarely write back. Instant gratification from video games and text messages is much closer at hand. He settles for annual visits at the prison’s Returning Hearts family day. His mother, who does not own a car and says she has not been able to arrange transportation, has not seen her son since he got married at Angola in 2005, a few months before Katrina. She has troubles of her own, recently serving time on a heroin charge and dealing with the shooting death of her youngest son, June.
Haynes and his former wife Esther, who is Johna Jr.’s mother, have since divorced, though he still considers her his “ideal.”
Janay, the daughter he had before he met Esther, is attending high school in Philadelphia, where she settled after Katrina.
Domonique — Esther’s daughter and Hayne’s stepdaughter — is a senior at Warren Easton High School. She aspires to be an attorney and interned for Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Chief Judge Ernestine Gray last summer.
Kayla, Haynes’ youngest daughter, also wants to be an attorney, but at 14, she has not been attending school. She experienced the juvenile justice system from the defendants’ side after stabbing another girl on the school bus. Two of her uncles, including Haynes’ brother June, died within a year of each other. There is only so much her father can do from prison, but his words carry weight because of his own troubled past.
“I think the only thing I can do while I’m in prison is write to her and encourage her,” Haynes said. “When I talk to her, she listens. We have this bond, this connect, between each other. She knows what I’m saying is true, what I’m saying is real.”
Between his studies, church and rehearsals for his gospel rap group, Haynes has little spare time. He usually plays on prison basketball teams but has been sidelined due to an Achilles injury. He is a regular at the law library, researching cases that might move his appeal forward, though success, especially without an attorney, is an extreme long shot.
Believing he will leave Angola someday requires a leap of faith. Does he ever picture himself as one of those elderly inmates in a wheelchair, a common sight at the prison? No, that would be too dangerous. He believes because he has to, because if he stops believing, he might stop his relentless quest to learn more, to become better, to guide his children in the right direction, to keep the old Johna at bay.
Never mind that during a decade behind bars, his lucky patch has vanished, leaving only scattered strands of gray. According to his newfound religion, God protected him on the streets of New Orleans when bullets flew, God is watching him behind the gates of Angola, and God will rescue him from the unyielding weight of life without parole when the time comes.
“I was a terrible kid. I was terrible,” Haynes said. “I look back on it and I say, ‘Man, God had to be with me,’ because there was a lot of times I should have been dead, a lot of times I’ve been shot at, a lot of things I did, that I didn’t want to be living. But God sees otherwise.”
Criminal Defense Attorney New Orleans
Louisiana Is The World’s Prison Capital
Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.
The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.
Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.
If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.
Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.
In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.
One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the national average. Among black men from New Orleans, one in 14 is behind bars; one in seven is either in prison, on parole or on probation. Crime rates in Louisiana are relatively high, but that does not begin to explain the state’s No. 1 ranking, year after year, in the percentage of residents it locks up.
In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole. A trio of drug convictions can be enough to land you at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the rest of your life.
Almost every state lets judges decide when to mete out the severest punishment and when a sympathetic defendant should have a chance at freedom down the road. In Louisiana, murderers automatically receive life without parole on the guilty votes of as few as 10 of 12 jurors.
The lobbying muscle of the sheriffs, buttressed by a tough-on-crime electorate, keeps these harsh sentencing schemes firmly in place.
“Something has to be done — it just has to be done — about the long sentences,” said Angola Warden Burl Cain. “Some people you can let out of here that won’t hurt you and can be productive citizens, and we know the ones who can’t.”
Every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on schools, hospitals and highways. Other states are strategically reducing their prison populations — using tactics known in policy circles as “smart on crime.” Compared with the national average, Louisiana has a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses and a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offenses — perhaps a signal that some nonviolent criminals could be dealt with differently.
Do all of Louisiana’s 40,000 inmates need to be incarcerated for the interests of punishment and public safety to be served? Gov. Bobby Jindal, a conservative Republican with presidential ambitions, says the answer is no. Despite locking up more people for longer periods than any other state, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of both violent and property crimes. Yet the state shows no signs of weaning itself off its prison dependence.
“You have people who are so invested in maintaining the present system — not just the sheriffs, but judges, prosecutors, other people who have links to it,” said Burk Foster, a former professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and an expert on Louisiana prisons. “They don’t want to see the prison system get smaller or the number of people in custody reduced, even though the crime rate is down, because the good old boys are all linked together in the punishment network, which is good for them financially and politically.”
Keeping The Beds Full
In the early 1990s, when the incarceration rate was half what it is now, Louisiana was at a crossroads. Under a federal court order to reduce overcrowding, the state had two choices: Lock up fewer people or build more prisons.
It achieved the latter, not with new state prisons — there was no money for that — but by encouraging sheriffs to foot the construction bills in return for future profits. The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over rural Louisiana.
The national prison population was expanding at a rapid clip. Louisiana’s grew even faster. There was no need to rein in the growth by keeping sentencing laws in line with those of other states or by putting minor offenders in alternative programs. The new sheriffs’ beds were ready and waiting. Overcrowding became a thing of the past, even as the inmate population multiplied rapidly.
“If the sheriffs hadn’t built those extra spaces, we’d either have to go to the Legislature and say, ‘Give us more money,’ or we’d have to reduce the sentences, make it easier to get parole and commutation — and get rid of people who shouldn’t be here,” said Richard Crane, former general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Corrections.
Today, wardens make daily rounds of calls to other sheriffs’ prisons in search of convicts to fill their beds. Urban areas such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge have an excess of sentenced criminals, while prisons in remote parishes must import inmates to survive.
The more empty beds, the more an operation sinks into the red. With maximum occupancy and a thrifty touch with expenses, a sheriff can divert the profits to his law enforcement arm, outfitting his deputies with new squad cars, guns and laptops. Inmates spend months or years in 80-man dormitories with nothing to do and few educational opportunities before being released into society with $10 and a bus ticket.
Fred Schoonover, deputy warden of the 522-bed Tensas Parish Detention Center in northeast Louisiana, says he does not view inmates as a “commodity.” But he acknowledges that the prison’s business model is built on head counts. Like other wardens in this part of the state, he wheels and deals to maintain his tally of human beings. His boss, Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones, relies on him to keep the numbers up.
“We struggle. I stay on the phone a lot, calling all over the state, trying to hustle a few,” Schoonover said.
Some sheriffs, and even a few small towns, lease their prison rights to private companies. LaSalle Corrections, based in Ruston, plays a role in housing one of seven Louisiana prisoners. LCS Corrections Services, another homegrown company, runs three Louisiana prisons and is a major donor to political campaigns, including those of urban sheriffs who supply rural prisons with inmates.
Incarceration On The Cheap
Ask anyone who has done time in Louisiana whether he or she would rather be in a state-run prison or a local sheriff-run prison. The answer is invariably state prison.
Inmates in local prisons are typically serving sentences of 10 years or less on nonviolent charges such as drug possession, burglary or writing bad checks. State prisons are reserved for the worst of the worst.
Yet it is the murderers, rapists and other long-termers who learn trades like welding, auto mechanics, air-conditioning repair and plumbing. Angola’s Bible college offers the only chance for Louisiana inmates to earn an undergraduate degree.
Such opportunities are not available to the 53 percent serving their time in local prisons. In a cruel irony, those who could benefit most are unable to better themselves, while men who will die in prison proudly show off fistfuls of educational certificates.
Louisiana specializes in incarceration on the cheap, allocating by far the least money per inmate of any state. The $24.39 per diem is several times lower than what Angola and other state-run prisons spend — even before the sheriff takes his share. All local wardens can offer is GED classes and perhaps an inmate-led support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Their facilities are cramped and airless compared with the spacious grounds of state prisons, where inmates walk along outdoor breezeways and stay busy with jobs or classes.
With a criminal record, finding work is tough. In five years, about half of the state’s ex-convicts end up behind bars again.
Gregory Barber has seen the contrast between state and local prisons firsthand. He began a four-year sentence for burglary at the state-run Phelps Correctional Center — a stroke of luck for someone with a relatively short sentence on a nonviolent charge who might easily have ended up in a sheriff’s custody.
With only six months to go, the New Orleans native was transferred to Richwood Correctional Center, a LaSalle-run prison near Monroe. He had hoped to end his time in a work-release program to up his chances of getting a good job. But the 11th-hour transfer rendered him ineligible. At Phelps, he took a welding class. Now, he whiles away the hours lying in his bunk for lack of anything better to do. The only relief from the monotony is an occasional substance-abuse rehab meeting.
“In DOC camps, you’d go to the yard every day, go to work,” said Barber, 50, of state-run prisons. “Here, you just lay down, or go to meetings. It makes time pass a little slower.”
While Louisiana tops the prison rankings, it consistently vies with Mississippi — the state with the second-highest incarceration rate — for the worst schools, the most poverty, the highest infant mortality. One in three Louisiana prisoners reads below a fifth-grade level. The vast majority did not complete high school. The easy fix of selling drugs or stealing is all too tempting when the alternative is a low-wage, dead-end job.
More money spent on locking up an ever-growing number of prisoners means less money for the very institutions that could help young people stay out of trouble, giving rise to a vicious cycle. Louisiana spends about $663 million a year to feed, house, secure and provide medical care to 40,000 inmates. Nearly a third of that money — $182 million — goes to for-profit prisons, whether run by sheriffs or private companies.
“Clearly, the more that Louisiana invests in large-scale incarceration, the less money is available for everything from preschools to community policing that could help to reduce the prison population,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a national criminal justice reform group. “You almost institutionalize the high rate of incarceration, and it’s even harder to get out of that situation.”
Louisiana’s prison epidemic disproportionately affects neighborhoods already devastated by crime and poverty. In some parts of New Orleans, a stint behind bars is a rite of passage for young men.
About 5,000 black men from New Orleans are doing state prison time, compared with 400 white men from the city. Because police concentrate resources on high-crime areas, minor lawbreakers there are more likely to be stopped and frisked or caught up in a drug sweep than, say, an Uptown college student with a sideline marijuana business.
With so many people lost to either prison or violence, fraying neighborhoods enter a downward spiral. As the incarceration rate climbs, more children grow up with fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles in prison, putting them at increased risk of repeating the cycle themselves.
‘Don’t feel no pity’
Angola is home to scores of old men who cannot get out of bed, let alone commit a crime. Someone who made a terrible mistake in his youth and has transformed himself after decades in prison has little to no chance at freedom.
Louisiana has a higher percentage of inmates serving life without parole than any other state. Its justice system is unstintingly tough on petty offenders as well as violent criminals. In more than four years in office, Jindal has only pardoned one inmate.
“Louisiana don’t feel no pity. I feel like everybody deserves a second chance,” said Preston Russell, a Lower 9th Ward native who received life without parole for a string of burglaries and a crack charge. “I feel like dudes get all this education … under their belt and been here 20, 30 years. You don’t think that’s enough time to let a man back out and give him another chance at life?”
An inmate at Angola costs the state an average of $23,000 a year. A young lifer will rack up more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded expenses if he reaches the Louisiana male life expectancy of 72.
Russell, 49, is in good health. But as he gets older, treating his age-related ailments will be expensive. The state spends about $24 million a year caring for between 300 and 400 infirm inmates.
Now in his 13th year at Angola, Russell breaks into tears recounting how he rebelled against the grandmother who raised him, leaving home as soon as he could. First he smoked weed, weed became crack, then he was selling drugs and burglarizing stores in between jobs in construction or shipping.
The last time he stole, Orleans Parish prosecutors tagged him as a multiple offender and sought the maximum — the same sentence given to murderers. In the final crime that put him away for life, he broke into Fat Harry’s and stole $4,000 from the Uptown bar’s video poker machines.
Tough fiscal times have spurred many states to reduce their prison populations. In lock-’em-up Texas, new legislation is steering low-level criminals into drug treatment and other alternatives to prison.
In Louisiana, even baby steps are met with resistance. Jindal, who rose to the governor’s office with the backing of the sheriffs’ lobby, says too many people are behind bars. Yet earlier this year, he watered down a reform package hammered out by the Sentencing Commission he himself had convened. The commission includes sheriffs and district attorneys, so its proposals were modest to begin with.
Measures like those in Texas, which target a subset of nonviolent offenders, are frequently lauded but may not be enough. To make a significant dent in the prisoner numbers, sentences for violent crimes must be reduced and more money must be invested in inner-city communities, according to David Cole, a professor at Georgetown Law School. Such large-scale change — which has not been attempted in any state, let alone Louisiana — can only happen through political will.
In Louisiana, that will appears to be practically nonexistent. Locking up as many people as possible for as long as possible has enriched a few while making everyone else poorer. Public safety comes second to profits.
“You cannot build your way out of it. Very simply, you cannot build your way out of crime,” said Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc, who supports reducing the incarceration rate and putting more resources into inmate rehabilitation. “It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t afford it. Nobody can afford that.”
Criminal Defense Attorney New Orleans
Perpetration of certain crimes of violence against a victim sixty-five years of age or older — La RS 14:50.2
The court in its discretion may sentence, in addition to any other penalty provided by law, any person who is convicted of a crime of violence or of an attempt to commit any of the crime of violence with the exception of first degree murder, second degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping, to an additional three years’ imprisonment when the victim of such crime is 65 years of age or older at the time the crime is committed.
Contact Elizabeth B Carpenter, attorney New Orleans, to schedule a consultation today!