Legislative Wrap-Up: the Good, the Bad, the Compromises

The 2017 legislative session has finally come to a close.  Our Coalition’s efforts to protect children in the justice system were met with mixed results, but one thing was consistent: the support and dedication of Coalition members and supporters.  Thanks to all of you who contacted your legislators, showed up at the legislature, and even shared a social media post.  Your help matters and we will continue to need it in the fight for children’s rights.

Juvenile Life Without Parole

LA State CapitolThe end of the 2017 legislative session brings a clear call to action: we must continue to fight to end the practice of sentencing children to die in prison.  The Louisiana legislature failed to pass a bill eliminating life without parole for juveniles.  Rather, prosecutors can continue to seek life without parole sentences in all old cases and many new cases moving forward.

There is some good news.  Prosecutors will not be able to seek life without parole for new second-degree murder cases.  And some people will become eligible for parole after serving 25 years – 10 years fewer than current law allows.

This is bittersweet.  While some individuals will now have a chance at release far earlier than the law currently allows, this legislation enables the state to stay on its misguided course, which will in all likelihood lead to further litigation and a directive to once again revisit our legislation.  For the past five years, Louisiana has failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate that almost no child be sentenced to die in prison.

Thus, our work has just begun. We will continue to fight for all children facing death-in-prison sentences.  We will closely monitor decisions made my prosecutors, judges, and the parole board.  We will strategize on how to work through the courts if the state continues to hand out these sentences at such a high rate.  We won’t give up. And we hope you won’t either.

Expungement

Now here’s some news we can celebrate!  The Coalition, Louisiana Bar Association, and Louisiana State Law Institute supported changes to the state’s juvenile expungement laws, which govern the use of juvenile court records. The legislature passed a strong measure that will allow more youth to move past their involvement with the justice system, and pursue higher education and employment.

Conditions of Confinement

Louisiana currently lacks safety standards for state-run juvenile secure care facilities – but it won’t for long.  The legislature agreed to establish a task force that will create requirements for the care of children in the state’s custody.  While there is much work ahead to craft these standards, the result will allow us to hold facilities accountable for the safety and effectiveness of their programs.

Mandatory Sentences

Unfortunately, the legislature declined to repeal a law that requires children to serve out their full terms in custody, even if they have been completely rehabilitated. Instead of earning early release on supervised parole, these children must sit and wait in jail, which is ineffective, unnecessary, and wildly expensive. We remain committed to returning sentencing discretion back to judges, and will continue to strategize on how to successfully do so.

 

Thank you, again, to all Coalition members and supporters for your commitment to youth justice.

We look forward to working with you again in 2018 and beyond!