Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

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.

Albert Woodfox in 2012. Louisiana's Attorney General has called Woodfox the "most dangerous man on the planet."

 

BREAKING NEWS

A federal judge in Louisiana issued an unconditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering the immediate release of the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox, and barring the State from creating a retrial. He could be released within hours or days after more than 43 years in solitary confinement. Sixteen years longer than the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

According to Tory Pegram, Campaign Coordinator for the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Judge James Brady of the Federal District Court in Baton Rouge “argues that this extraordinary remedy is merited due to the following 5 factors: Mr. Woodfox’s age and poor health, his limited ability to present a defense at a third trial in light of the unavailability of witnesses, this Court’s lack of confidence in the State to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty-years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over forty years ago.”

A federal judge argues that the State of Louisiana can’t be trusted to provide a fair trial. Think about that. Think about that hard.

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 19970s

A solitary cell in Angola prison in the 1970s

Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement since 1972 for the murder of corrections officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Many believe that he and the other two members of the so-called Angola 3 were targeted for the crime, and subsequently held in isolation, not because of the evidence but because of their involvement in the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Woodfox is the only member of the Angola 3 to remain in prison. Robert King was freed in 2001, following 29 years in solitary, after his original conviction for a separate prison murder was overturned. Herman Wallace, whose conviction for Brent Miller’s murder had also been overturned, died last year after more than 41 years in solitary and a few days of freedom.

In 2013 Judge Brady also vacated Woodfox’s conviction on the grounds that there had been racial bias in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana at the time of his indictment. Last November, the Fifth Circuit, considered one of the nation’s most conservative Federal Appeals Courts, voted to uphold Brady’s ruling.

The man most likely to abhor Judge Brady’s ruling today is Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Caldwell has called Woodfox, now 68 years old, “the most dangerous man on the planet” due to his political beliefs. More recently, when Woodfox’s conviction was overturned last year, Caldwell immediately vowed to appeal, saying: “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.”

Caldwell asserts that the evidence against Woodfox is “overpowering”: “There are no flaws in our evidence and this case is very strong,” he said last year. But these statements belie the fact that much of the evidence that led to Wallace and Woodfox’s conviction has since been called into question. In particular, the primary eyewitness was shown to have been bribed by prison officials into making statements against the two men.

Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway first wrote about the Woodfox case in 2009 in Mother Jones, providing a comprehensive history and analysis, as well as an account of the conditions in which Woodfox has lived for four decades.

Woodfox’s conditions of confinement have if anything deteriorated in the last five years: He was moved from Angola to David Wade Correctional Center in north central Louisiana, where, according to a separate lawsuit, he faced multiple daily strip searches and visual body cavity searches. Woodfox, along with Robert King and the estate of Herman Wallace, is also plaintiff in a major federal lawsuit challenging his decades in solitary on First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. That suit may also finally come to trial this year.

43 years in solitary confinement, always claiming his innocence, and patently obviously because of his political beliefs. Repeatedly denied proper reviews. Repeatedly denied a chance to get out of solitary. Suffering psychological scarring that can only be imagined.

43 YEARS.

In the land of the free. Bow your head and weep, America.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn't exactly going to hurt the Democrats either.

McConnell v Grimes: forgive our cynicism, but the look of both candidates isn’t exactly going to hurt the Democrats either. Hey, Kennedy beat Nixon because he was taller, right?

A round of new polls conducted by The New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation have some good (and surprising, to some) news for a handful of Southern Senate Democrats in key seats. This news may hose down excitement in some GOP and fellow-traveller ranks that the Republicans could win control of the Senate: that now looks less likely, not that we ever thought it was.

The polls, released Wednesday, found Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) leading Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) by a comfortable 46 percent to 36 percent.

In Kentucky, controversial Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – long tipped as a very possible loser in the mid-terms by this blog – just barely leads Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) 44 percent to 43 percent, the poll found.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is also neck-and-neck with House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC) in a hypothetical matchup with Hagan getting 42 percent while Tillis gets 40 percent.

Lastly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has a commanding lead over Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and the rest of the field in the Louisiana Senate race.

(That finding deserves a caveat: Louisiana’s primary system is something called a “jungle primary” where there is no Republican or Democratic primary. Instead all candidates run together and if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates face each other in a runoff election. The poll found Landrieu with 42 percent followed by Cassidy with 18 percent. No other candidate managed to get double digits.)

The polls were conducted April 8 to the 15. The margin of error for each poll was plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters. In other words, despite “weeks of attacks ads” quoted by one source, Mark Pryor in Arkansas has pulled out to a winning lead (his biggest lead since polling started) and looks comfortable in what should still be a relatively tight race. The other races are all within the margin of error.

We believe incumbency will be a negative for all candidates in November, and even more than usual. On that basis we think McConnell looks doubly vulnerable. We shall see.

Jailing children for life. Hardly the action of a "civilised" country.

Locked up for life at 16, with no possibility of parole. Christi Cheramie is living a nightmare.

When Christi was 16 years old, back in 1994, she couldn’t vote, drink alcohol, serve on a jury, or buy lottery tickets. She was considered a minor – a child. But that didn’t stop the state of Louisiana from giving this 16-year-old a sentence of life without parole.

Uniquely in the civilised world, only in the USA – where children as young as 11 have faced life in prison – are such harsh sentences against juveniles allowed. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits life without parole for offenses committed under the age of 18. This is not about excusing or minimizing the consequences of crimes committed by children, but about recognizing that children are not yet fully responsible for their actions and also have special potential for rehabilitation and change.

Christie Cheramie - rehabilitated, but never to be released.

Christi, who is now 33 years old, has spent more than half of her young life in prison. She’s earned her high school equivalency diploma and an associate’s degree in Agriculture Studies, and teaches classes to her fellow inmates. A prison warden who oversaw Christi considers her a “model inmate” who has grown into a “remarkable young woman” deserving of “a second chance in society.”

But if we all don’t act now to secure her release on license, a mandatory sentence of life without parole means that Christi will die – needlessly, pointlessly – in prison.

A victim of sexual abuse and depression, and caught in the web of an aggressive and controlling older fiancé, Christi found herself unwittingly at the grisly murder scene of her fiancé’s great aunt. She was charged with murder just for being there – even though it was her fiancé who wielded the knife and the chief investigating officer confirmed that was his unshakeable belief.

The victim’s closest family members are sympathetic to Christi’s case. But Christi’s fate is now in the hands of Louisiana’s governor and Board of Pardons.

Amnesty International’s 2011 Write for Rights campaign highlighted Christi’s case, and thousands of letters have already poured into Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office. Next week, the Board of Pardons will meet to decide whether or not to move forward with Christi’s clemency application – a decision that the governor can influence, incidentally. You can tweet him at @bobbyjindal.

Christi has already changed people’s lives for the better through her work at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, but she will never be able to realize her full potential – and society won’t benefit from her potential contributions – and we all have to keep paying for her incarceration – if she spends the rest of her life behind bars.

It’s time for the U.S. to join the rest of the world and end the cruel and unusual punishment of juvenile life without parole. People convicted of crimes while still children — like Christi Cheramie — should be given a chance at rehabilitation. They shouldn’t be left to rot and grow old in a jail cell.

You can make a difference in Christi’s case. Sign Amnesty’s petition now calling for clemency for Christi Cheramie.

It is worth trying anything to secure her release, but sadly, Louisiana reduces virtually no “life means life” sentences. Even close relatives of Aunt Nan – the lady who was murdered – think Christi should be released.

You can also see an excellent and balanced report, and hear Christi Cheramie’s story in her own words and an intelligent discussion about her case, from CBS, here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6489113n

I would recommend watching the CBS report if for no other reason than to witness the implacable Louisiana prosecutor who thinks Christi should never be released. His motive, clearly and concisely explained, more than once, is, quite simply, is vengeance. Not rehabilitation. Not protection for society. Not deterrence.Vengeance. He calls it “punishment”,  but that is what he means.

No doubt he righteously attends church every Sunday – what is certain, in my mind, is that he and those like him will never see the Kingdom of God.

Oh, and by the way? When Americans bleat that they don’t understand why people in the rest of the world criticise their freedom-loving country, this is why. Partly, at least.

Your legal system often horrifies us. That you allow it to continue to behave like this horrifies us even more.