Louisiana Lawmakers Pass Bill To Address Parole Eligibility Of Elderly Lifers

Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola)
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Photos: Wikimedia Commons\Twitter

Louisiana lawmakers passed a bill last week that provides parole eligibility to people who accepted life sentences in plea agreements based on the understanding that they would be eligible for release after 10 years and six months of good behavior—but then lost all chance for release when the law changed.

In 1926, Louisiana lawmakers officially adopted a policy implemented by a warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola), according to HuffPost. The law provided that people with life sentences would be released after 10 and a half years of good behavior.

“Everyone here was aware of it. It was routine,” Angola associate warden Hilton Butler told The Angolite in 1980. “If a lifer kept his nose clean, he got out of prison in 10½ years. I’d say almost 99% of all the lifers got out.”

But after the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty nationwide in 1972, Louisiana eliminated the 10/6 rule.

As HuffPost reported, a 20-year mandatory minimum before parole eligibility was implemented in 1973 and increased to 40 years in 1976.

Then, in 1979, the legislature abolished parole eligibility altogether, leaving the so-called “10/6 lifers” with no hope for release.

Five decades later, the number of 10/6 lifers still living has dwindled to roughly 65, HuffPost reported in December. The overwhelming majority are Black.

Some who were under 18 at the time of the crime have been released as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Graham v. Florida, which barred life-without-parole sentences for children convicted of nonhomicide offenses, and Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children.

Of those still in Angola, about 20 people will be immediately eligible for parole under Senate Bill 273, which unanimously passed the House on Thursday and is expected to be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Franklin Foil (R), told HuffPost that he limited his bill to people who had pleaded guilty because they had made a deal with the state based on the 10/6 rule.

As HuffPost noted, many people agreed to plea deals—even if they did not commit the crime—rather than take the risk of being sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

Indeed, Black defendants accused of raping a white victim in the South, including in Louisiana, from 1945 to 1965 were sentenced to death 18 times more frequently than defendants in any other racial combination. All of the 14 people executed for rape in Louisiana since 1941 were Black. And Black defendants were far more likely than white defendants to be wrongly convicted of rape.

Andrew Hundley, executive director of the Parole Project, told HuffPost that about 30 people will not benefit from the new law. A separate bill that would have made all 10/6 lifers eligible for parole failed to move forward in the state legislature.

“We will continue to advocate for those whose original sentences should have had them home decades ago,” Mr. Hundley said. “There is zero benefit to public safety for any of these individuals to remain incarcerated.”

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