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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Louisiana governor signs tough new crime bills

The new laws expand the death penalty, toughen criminal sentences, remove the possibility of parole and legalize carrying a concealed gun without a permit or training.

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry signed nine new crime bills into law Wednesday afternoon, including laws that limit parole, expand executions, and raise penalties for carjacking.

Wednesdays signing comes a day after Landry signed into law 11 other crime bills, including those allowing guns to be carried concealed without a permit or training and tougher penalties for drunken driving.

The bills were formalized during signing ceremonies both days. The governor appeared at the ceremony with the families of victims of crime.

“This was our campaign and today we basically fulfilled our promise,” Landry, a Republican, said during Wednesday’s ceremony.

“People would not come to a place where it’s not safe and so today we signed those bills to start to make Louisiana safe,” he said.

The new legislation is part of a package of bills Landry calls “tough-on-crime” measures and were passed this past week during a special session brought by the Republican-led Legislature.

The death penalty in Louisiana can now be administered via nitrogen gas or electrocution in addition to lethal injection.

The package also eliminates parole for nearly everyone convicted of a crime beyond August and allows any person over 17 who is accused of committing a crime to be tried as an adult.

“Today we bring some justice to victims,” Landry said.

Landry appeared at Wednesday’s ceremony flanked by family members of Linda Frickey who was carjacked and dragged to her death in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood in 2022.  

Frickey’s killer, a teenager named John Honore, was tried as an adult and currently faces a life sentence with a chance of parole after 25 years.

Had Honore been tried under Landry’s new law, parole would not have been a possibility.

Many members of both the public and the legislative body who voiced concerns over the laws during the legislative session said they were concerned that prison sentences will now be life sentences, which will eliminate what little hope prisoners and families of prisoners have had.

Many also worried that Louisiana’s prison system, which is currently the largest in the world per capita and disproportionately Black has become too reliable a source for cheap labor.

A report by U.S. News in January traced a line from Angola, the largest prison in the U.S. that is situated on the site of a former slave plantation in Louisiana, as the source of many household goods.  

The report called prisoners “among America’s most vulnerable laborers” because refusing to work can “jeopardize their chances of parole” or find them in solitary confinement.  “They also are often excluded from protections guaranteed to almost all other full-time workers, even when they are seriously injured or killed on the job,” it said.

The report tracked prisoner-made products that wind up in grocery stores and on kitchen tables, calling them a “dizzying array… from Frosted Flakes cereal and Ball Park hot dogs to Golf Medal flour, Coca-Cola and Riceland rice.” The report traced the use of cheap or even free prisoner labor to the post-Civil War South.

“Enshrined in the Constitution by the 13th Amendment, slavery and involuntary servitude are banned — except as punishment for a crime,” the article said.

During the special session on crime, a woman named Sara who said she collects stories from prisoners statewide addressed Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Republican, asking for the Legislature to call the new crime laws being introduced for what they are — in her words, “a way to imprison Black people for as long as possible so you can extract their labors.”

Johnson appeared incensed by the remark.  

“We are trying to deal with violent crime here in Louisiana," he said. "We are not trying to oppress any particular race."

Other members of the public who spoke out against the new laws during the special crime session pointed to that parish prisons, where many thousands of offenders land, offer no social or rehabilitative programs like drug rehab or continuing education. As a result, prisoners might spend decades there acquiring no formal skills only to be released to the public years later.   

Statewide, only federal prisons offer programs aimed at prisoner rehabilitation and betterment.

Opponents of the new laws say they will harm Louisianans and make the streets less safe.

Democratic State Representative C. Denise Marcelle told the legislative panel during the special session two weeks ago that she did not think the new bills would make any significant difference in bringing down crime in her district.

Many of the laws, like doubling mandatory jail time to five years for carjacking and limiting parole, were introduced as ways to scare would-be felons away from a life of crime.

But Marcelle and many others voiced concerns during the special session that would-be criminals are the result of a broken system and harsher punishments will not address problems like unaffordable housing and failing schools.

“I don’t think changing the law, that someone is going to suddenly read it and say, ‘hey they changed the law and we’re going to get more time’ and that’s going to affect how many people get arrested. I just disagree with that,” Marcelle told Baton Rouge TV station WAFB Chanel 9 on Tuesday.

Marcelle said there should be more focus on resources and less on punishments.

“This is supposed to be a session dealing with crime,” state Senator Royce Duplessis, a Democrat, said after the special session. “I don’t know how any of these bills in particular are going to prevent crime from happening.”

But many others in the Legislature felt differently.

“I think when the message is out that we’re not going to tolerate carjacking and we’re not going to tolerate people trying to hurt our children when it comes to drugs, I do think that message will get out,” said state Representative Laurie Schlegel, a Republican.

Landry said during his signing Wednesday that the new bills are “like a window, a flashlight” for victims.

“They know that the person who affected their life, in such a tragic way, what is going to happen to them. Knowing whether or not the victims are going to get some justice," he said.

Follow @SabrinaCanfiel2
Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics

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