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.
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?
“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.
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.”
“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?
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.