The Louisiana Supreme Court refused to review a life sentence for Fair Wayne Bryant, a man sent to prison for life for trying to steal hedge clippers from a carport storage room in 1997, reports The Lens in New Orleans. An appeals court upheld upheld the sentence last year. In a lone dissent, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote that Bryant’s “life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.” She also called the habitual offender laws that were used to convict Bryant the “modern manifestation” of “Pig Laws” — which were implemented following Reconstruction and introduced extreme punishments for property crime associated with poverty.
“Pig Laws were largely designed to re-enslave African Americans,” Johnson, the court’s first Black chief justice and only Black justice on the court, wrote. “They targeted actions such as stealing cattle and swine — considered stereotypical ‘negro’ behavior — by lowering the threshold for what constituted a crime and increasing the severity of its punishment.” Johnson noted that Bryant is held in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which was built on the site of a former slave plantation. “Mr. Bryant’s incarceration has cost Louisiana taxpayers approximately $518,667,” Johnson wrote. The justices that declined to consider Bryant’s request for review — all white men — did not issue written rulings explaining their reasoning. Louisiana’s habitual offender laws, which allow prosecutors to seek harsher sentences for crimes that normally wouldn’t warrant them, have long been criticized for sanctioning excessively punitive sentences and driving mass incarceration.