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Sentencing: Louisiana Bill to Allow Parole for Heroin Lifers Passes Full House, Senate Committee

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #590)

From the 1970s until 2000, anyone caught possessing, distributing, or producing heroin in Louisiana was eligible for a prison sentence of life without parole. After the legislature changed the law, those penalties were reduced to five to 50 years in prison, with the possibility of parole, but that legislation did not deal with the remaining heroin lifers, who stay behind bars while people convicted since then do their time and go home.

Now, a bill that would redress that injustice has passed the Louisiana House, and on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it, too. The bill, HB 630, would allow heroin lifers to seek parole after they have served at least 15 years.

"It is a matter of basic fairness," Pete Adams, executive director of the District Attorneys Association, told the committee. The association supports the bill.

State Rep. Walt Leger III (D-New Orleans) said the average sentence for heroin offenses these days is five years. Keeping the heroin lifers in prison costs the state too much money, he added.

The legislature has killed similar proposals in recent years, including last year, when the House defeated it 44-48. This year it passed the House 57-29. Legislators had said the heroin lifers should seek review at the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which reviews the cases of nonviolent offenders to assess how dangerous they would be if released.

But even if the panel recommends a reduction, only the governor has the power to commute sentences. Governors typically "are not into signing these things," testified Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


David Sims (not verified)

I live in Pensacola, Fl and life for heroin in my opinion is overkill. Drugs are drugs and it is what it is. As a recovering addict on methadone maintenance I am glad that they have a substitute drug for people like myself. Heroin has always been my drug of choice. I am 53 years old and when I was 16 I took my first shot of Vietnamese white junk. From there it snowballed, I robbed drug stores and even a bank to finance my drug habit. Today, I am clean and feel that people with a drug problem need treatment not prison. Prison is for punishment and after a person does 5 years hard time it becomes something else. I am not proud by no means to say this but I have spent 26 years of my life in prison all because of drugs or alcohol. I am tired of doing time. So, by the grace of God I am living the right way today. I do not break any laws except I may go over the speed limit but other than that I just keep a very low profile. I can say that the purity of heroin coming out of New Orleans is pretty decent compared to the 60's and 70's. I too hope the law changes in Louisiana concerning heroin cases. It is time for a change. Thank you.

Wed, 07/22/2009 - 2:15pm Permalink

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