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Thursday, June 8, 2017

State lawmakers one step away from finalizing bill offering parole for some juvenile lifers

Posted By on Thu, Jun 8, 2017 at 10:37 AM

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After months of negotiations over a controversial bill aimed to curb life without parole sentences for juveniles, lawmakers have reached a compromise.

Senate Bill 16, by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, will eliminate life without parole for juveniles convicted of second-degree murder, but retain the sentence for offenders convicted of first-degree murder. Those who are granted the chance at freedom will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years of their sentence.
For inmates who are already serving life without parole after being convicted as juveniles, the proposed law says prosecutors can choose to hold individualized sentencing hearings for them to determine if they deserve a chance at parole. If they don’t hold the hearings, the inmate automatically gets parole after serving 25 years of their sentence.

The Senate approved the changes to the bill 25-11 June 7. The House was expected to approve the changes June 8.

Prior to its passing, the bill repeatedly had been amended in both camps. The Senate proposed eliminating future juvenile life without parole sentencing in Louisiana. The House brought the option back, and gave prosecutors more power to keep the sentence retroactively.
The Senate then rejected House amendments, and a six-person legislative committee was assembled to hash out final negotiations. Neither side has reported being happy with the changes. Claitor said nobody will be “throwing a parade” over the amendments, and state Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, opposes it because he wanted juveniles to have to serve 30 years before being eligible for parole.

Legislature was pressured to find compromise this session because the state has been in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that declared such sentences for youth "cruel and unusual punishment," which the U.S. Constitution prohibits.

In 2012, the court held that life sentences should apply only to the "rare juvenile offender" whose crime "reflects irreparable corruption.” In 2016, the court applied that standard retroactively.

Aaron Clark-Rizzio, executive director of Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, suspects that the state’s law will “in all likelihood” lead to further litigation and require revisitation in the future.

“For the past five years, Louisiana has failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate that almost no child be sentenced to die in prison,” Clark-Rizzio said. “This legislation enables the state to stay on its misguided course.”

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