Louisiana Leads Nation in Life Without Parole Terms

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About 15 percent of Louisiana’s prison population consists of people serving life without parole, the highest percentage among all states. Those numbers are the result of sentencing laws enacted decades ago, including mandatory minimums and a 1979 decision from state legislators to abolish parole for all life sentences, creating a rigid structure that critics argue limits opportunities to ensure the punishment fits the crime, reports The Advocate in Baton Rouge. Perhaps the biggest outlier is Louisiana’s response to second-degree murder, a broad statute that treats getaway drivers and lookouts the same as trigger pullers. It allows prosecutors to sidestep proving intent in some cases, but it carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole.

Louisiana has more inmates serving life without parole than Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined: about 4,700 people behind bars with no chance at release. Those convicted of second-degree murder make up the largest subset — 51 percent of the total — compared to 19 percent for aggravated rape and 16 percent for first-degree murder, according to Department of Corrections data analyzed by researchers at Loyola University. More than half were under 25 when convicted and about 75 percent are black. When factoring in other long sentences too, almost one in three Louisiana prison inmates will die behind bars, says the Sentencing Project. Many places, including Southern states, make most lifers eligible for parole after 20 or 30 years. In Louisiana, “life means life.” People convicted of certain crimes are automatically locked up forever, with no input from judges, juries or the state’s parole board. Opponents of Louisiana’s sentencing practices cite research showing people “age out” of crime, meaning their likelihood of getting rearrested decreases the older they get.

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