Welcome to Louisiana, where a privatised prison system needs its legislators to keep passing ever more lunatic penalties, to keep feeding the prison system with fodder to lock up and look after – at huge expense to the taxpayers of the State, of course. And sadly, Louisiana is just one of the more obvious offenders in this regard – the disgrace is repeated across the united States.

 

Man facing life in prison after allegedly being caught stealing $31 of chocolate bars

New Orleans resident Jacobia Grimes faces the life sentence after being charged under the Louisiana state’s habitual-offender law, which considers past offences.

New Orleans resident Jacobia Grimes faces the life sentence after being charged under the Louisiana state’s habitual-offender law, which considers past offences. The law, which has been in place for three decades, means that Grimes could potentially go to prison for 20 years to life. He has already spent nine years in prison for previous minor theft convictions.

Now you might think he’s exceptionally stupid, but the fact is that Grimes is a “quad” offender under the habitual-offender law following five previous convictions. But does he deserve to spend the rest of his life in jail for being dumb? And just as importantly, do local taxpayers deserve to feed and house him for the rest of his natural days?

According to his lawyer, those five previous convictions totalled less than $500 for incidents at Rite-Aid, Sav-A-Center, Blockbuster Video and Rouses stores.

“I just think it points to the absurdity of the multiple billing statute. They’re spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy. It’s ridiculous,” attorney Miles Swanson said.

 

Jacobia-Grimes-allegedly-stole-from-a-Dollar-General-store-in-New-Orleans

 

In the most recent of the convictions, Swanson said Grimes accepted a four-year jail sentence as a double offender after being caught stealing a pair of socks and trousers from a Dollar General store. Whether that sentence makes any sense either bears debating.

Swanson believes Grimes could have been charged with a state misdemeanor under a different statute, but now could potentially add to the nine years he has already spent in prison.

“It’s unconscionably excessive to threaten someone with 20 years to life for candy,” said Grimes’s other attorney Michael Kennedy.

“[But] the District Attorney is following the law as it’s written. The DA certainly had a choice. I may not agree with the choice they made, but they didn’t do anything improper.”

Louisiana has been titled the ‘world’s prison capital’ in an expose that found the US state imprisons more citizens than any other state and holds an incarceration state “nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.”

“The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash,” the Times-Picayune reported way back in 2012. Little appears to have changed.

“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.”

Judge Franz Zibilich

Judge Franz Zibilich

“Isn’t this a little over the top?” he said. “It’s not even funny – twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.”

Let’s remember, this is a man’s life we’re dealing with here. He is not a number. He’s a person. He might be a dumb person, a poorly educated person, a foolish, feckless, stupid person, but he’s a person.

Does anyone really believe he wouldn’t be better diverted into community service/supervision, rather than locked up for 20-to-life?

Governor Edwards

Governor Edwards

The profit motive is NOT a basis for a just or workable penal system. People need to make that clear to their legislators. On February 21, 2013, current Democratic Party Governor John Bel Edwards (the only Democrat holding such office in the ‘Deep South’) announced his Gubantorial run. He said at the time that his state needs “a healthy dose of common sense and compassion for ordinary people”.

Quite. And the state’s legal system would seem to be an excellent place to start.

And let us all remember the research from all over the world that what recidivist petty thieves need is a job, active re-direction from situations (such as substance abuse) which will steer them off track, to build a sense of self esteem, to discover a purpose, and to learn personal responsibility. It’s messy, it’s not neat, it doesn’t provide the State with any sense of revenge, but it’s cheaper than incarceration, it works, and it returns value to the community.

Prison provides none of those things.

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Comments
  1. Pat A says:

    Superb article Yolly, thank you. I totally agree. Surely one way to appeal to the vengeful (and thick) voters who may approve of this law is to point out the monetary costs to them – to re-educate them – as you say

    “let us all remember the research from all over the world that what recidivist petty thieves need is a job, active re-direction from situations (such as substance abuse) which will steer them off track, to build a sense of self esteem, to discover a purpose, and to learn personal responsibility. It’s messy, it’s not neat, it doesn’t provide the State with any sense of revenge, but it’s cheaper than incarceration, it works, and it returns value to the community.”
    The cost to the taxpayer is going to be millions to lock someone up – compared to the messy way, which works, and costs relatively little.

    It costs millions to lock some poor s*d up for life – and how can it be sane or humane to do so for an offence costing a small amount like $31? As you say though, if the courts stopped doing this in Louisiana then a $182 million industry might collapse. Certain judges in America have been found to actively profit by sending repeat offenders for candy bar thefts to prison for life. Beyond disgusting – and the danger of any place with a private prison system is that they might go the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. underwriiter505 says:

    While I am absolutely on board with system reforms which would eliminate Draconian sentences, help offenders become useful citizens, and, incidentally, save taxpayer money, I am sorry to say that I am not holding my breath. There are a couple of rocks blocking this path (one might want to call them Scylla and Charybdis). One is, of course, the private prison industry. This should never have been allowed to start, but it was, and now it has immense power. It would not be totally impossible to eliminate, but there would have to be a supermajority of citizens/voters against it. And here we come up against the other rock.

    The Republican Party has managed to pass itself off as the pary of “fiscal responsibility.” The only way one can actually believe this is to believe is is fiscally irresponsible to spend even tiny sums on helping citizens, whereas spending on defense and drug testing and prisons and the like is responsible. This is something that educating the taxpayers on costs is not going to resolve. Seriously, there are hordes of voters out there who would rather spend millions on incarceration that pennies on assistance or rehab – because assistance and rehab are not “responsible,” but punishment is. The fact that these people are often the same ones compaining about their taxes does not escape me, but it escapes them completely.

    Like

  3. tulipels says:

    Again, money before the people.

    Like

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