From: SF Bay View, June 28th 2011
By Natasha R.
Baton Rouge, La. – The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the passage of a bill in the Louisiana legislature making it easier for elderly prisoners to get a parole hearing as an important step towards reducing the state’s unnecessarily high prison population.
The bill, H.B. 138, passed June 20 by the Louisiana Senate after it was passed two weeks ago by the state’s House of Representatives, will enable some prisoners to go before a parole board upon turning 60 years of age. The board can then decide to grant parole to those individuals who would pose no danger to the community upon release.
“Louisiana should not be using taxpayer dollars to lock up elderly individuals when they pose no danger to our communities,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The state’s legislature deserves credit for tackling the state’s problem of over-incarceration by passing bills like this one.”
Louisiana has the largest incarcerated population of any state in the nation and half of those behind bars in Louisiana are there for non-violent offenses. The state has 1,224 people over the age of 60 locked up, 3 percent of the state’s total prison population.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections estimates that while it costs $19,888 to house a state prisoner for a year, it costs $80,000 to house an ailing inmate.
Research also shows that the likelihood of recidivism drops significantly with age. According to state corrections statistics, only 0.3 percent of those released at age 55 or older recidivate and end up reincarcerated.
With the passage of today’s bill, Louisiana tackled what is a national problem of needlessly incarcerating elderly prisoners. Across the nation, more than 35,000 people over the age of 60 are in prison, or 2.3 percent of the nation’s total prison population.
“Today, more Americans than ever before are unnecessarily and unfairly deprived of their liberty with no benefit to public safety and at great expense to taxpayers,” said Inimai Chettiar, policy counsel with the national ACLU. “Louisiana is to be commended for looking for ways to reduce its bloated prison population, and other states around the country should follow Louisiana’s lead.”
More information about the ACLU of Louisiana is available at www.laaclu.org. More information about the ACLU’s national initiative to combat mass incarceration is available at www.aclu.org/combating-mass-incarceration