Some Wins, Some Losses, We Keep Fighting

Only a week and some change left in this legislative session, read along to find out how things are panning out.

Legislative Updates

HB 1077: Non-Unanimous Jury Bill

Our public awareness campaign, pointing out the many flaws in this bill, has had an impact. A special shoutout is deserved for those incarcerated people who shared with us their views from the Inside, regarding their own fates and Jim Crow verdicts. The bill sponsor, Rep. Randall Gaines, sought to introduce amendments that would make the bill less damaging, and Rep. Royce Duplessis clearly articulated the problems with the parole process the District Attorneys have drafted for the legislature. Those amendments were voted down, and Rep. Gaines has not been able to find common ground with D.A.’s, who clearly hold a “veto power” within our legislative branch.

Today Rep. Gaines pulled HB 1077, killing the bill for this legislative session.

HB 517: Medical Advisory Committee

HB 517, by Rep. Larry Selders, was presented with no opposition in the Judiciary B Committee. The bill was reported favorably and will be voted on for final passage. HB 517 creates a Medical Advisory Committee within the DOC that will report quarterly to the Dept. of Health. Will Harrell, VOTE’s Policy Counsel, testified only to thank Rep. Selders and the DOC for working with VOTE on the bill. Harrell stated, “The version of the bill right now is scaled back significantly [from] when it was first filed, but we believe it’s still going to serve a great purpose [and] provide transparency to allow us to continue to work in collaboration with DOC to enhance medical services in our facilities.”

HB 746: Juvenile Solitary Confinement

HB 746, by Rep. Royce Duplessis, was also presented in the Judiciary B Committee. This bill would limit the amount of time a juvenile can be placed in solitary confinement. Rep. Duplessis cited statistics showing the committee that our children spend far longer in solitary than elsewhere. The bill originally had a 4-hour restriction, but after amendments were made in collaboration with OJJ and the Criminal Justice Committee the bill states that a juvenile can only be held up to 8 hours, and up to 24 hours only if a mental health professional assesses a child and considers them to pose a serious and immediate threat.

Rachel Gassert from the Louisiana Center For Children’s Rights testified that in July of 2021 OJJ opened a new facility in secrecy. Attorneys, families, and judges of the juveniles being held there were not made aware of the facility known as the Acadiana Center For Youth in St. Martinville, LA. The conditions there were compared to being on death row. Excessive use of solitary confinement was also being used at the establishment.

William Sommers, the Deputy Secretary at OJJ gave testimony, stating that OJJ has a severe staffing shortage but they have no issues at all with what the bill is presenting. He claimed the bill does not inhibit them from doing their jobs but would rather enhance it.

Ultimately, HB 746 was reported with amendments and is scheduled for final passage in the Senate on May 31.

HB 1063: Fair Housing

HB 1063, by Rep. Matthew Willard, would have protected formerly incarcerated people against discrimination when applying for housing. Several organizations and their members showed up to testify in support of the bill. Rep. Willard said, “I think it’s important for those making the screening decisions to engage in dialogue with someone, instead of just essentially tossing their application because they have something on their background.” Leslie LeBlanc with the Promise of Justice Initiative, who is formerly incarcerated stated, “despite having paid my debts to society finding safe and affordable housing was one of my biggest struggles post-incarceration…I became homeless.”

Ronald Marshall of VOTE, also testified, saying, “There’s a stigma around incarcerated men and women that they’re a danger to the community [because] they have a felony. When you’re incarcerated for as long as I’ve been, there’s this humbleness that rises up inside of you, and when you walk out of prison you carry that with you everywhere you go. We have no intent to harm anyone.” VOTE’s newest staff member, Amelia Herrera said “I was a nurse for 27 years, but I lost my husband, he was murdered, and my mother died six months later, so I spiraled. That led me to be in a predicament that caused me to be detained, the charges were later dropped. I was homeless for 4 months.”

Despite these testimonies the committee still voted against the bill, blatantly denying formerly incarcerated people a chance at fair and affordable housing.

HB 707: Expungement

It has been well over a decade since VOTE began building community partnerships to help people apply for costly expungements. Since that time, organizations like Justice & Accountability Center of LA, campaigns like Clean Slate, and political representatives like Royce Duplessis have helped bring this issue forward. As we know from housing, voting, employment, and education: a criminal record, including an arrest that led to charges dropped, can get in the way of us as functional community members.

HB 707, which passed the full House and is pending in Senate Judiciary C Committee, will automate the expungement process for low-level records. Specifically, (1) arrests that did not lead to conviction, (2) misdemeanors, 5 years since the end of the sentence, (3) felonies eligible for “first offender pardon,” (4) non-violent felonies, 10 years since the end of the sentence. VOTE has always made it known that the time someone needs relief is much earlier in the waiting period, and people with very old yet serious crimes struggle to assimilate into society due to their records. This bill, however, at least puts the burden of clearance on a System that can forever keep that burden yoked around our necks.

SB 273: 10-6 Lifer Update

Up until 1973, the majority of people who were given Life sentences in Louisiana went home after serving 10 years and 6 months due to good behavior. But, when the U.S. Supreme Court put a pause on the death penalty, Louisiana made Life sentences even harsher. At first, the Louisiana Legislature required Life sentences for murder to have a 20-year minimum, which they eventually increased to 40 years. In 1979, parole eligibility was taken away from anyone with a Life sentence…until today. 

SB 273, a bill introduced by Senator Franklin J. Foil, passed the House, and will restore the parole eligibility of people who pled guilty to a Life sentence prior to 1973. So many people passed away having had their “agreement” changed on them by the legislature over the years, so we are going to do our best to support the senior citizens who remain.

Coming Soon

New Orleans Chapter:

Wednesday, June 1, 6-8 PM
4930 Washington Ave, Suite A
New Orleans, LA 70125

Lafayette Chapter:

Thursday, June 16, 6-7:30 PM
Lafayette Public Library, Downtown
301 West Congress Street
Lafayette, LA 70501

VOTE Lafayette meetings have now changed from the 4th Monday of every month to the 3rd Thursday of every month.

Power Coalition: She Leads

Power Coalition is now accepting Letters of Interest for our She Leads! Community Activist Fellowship. Launched in 2019, the She Leads Community Activist Fellowship seeks to build a statewide network of women of color activists who are disrupting the current power structures and realizing change in their communities.

The LOI for this fellowship is due Tuesday, June 21st by 11:59 PM.

Learn more here:

Contemporary Arts Center: The Wait Room

The Wait Room is Part One of Jo Kreiter’s “Decarceration Trilogy: Dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex One Dance at a Time.” The work was created in partnership with ESSIE Justice Group, an organization of women with incarcerated loved ones that addresses the rampant injustices created by mass incarceration. As part of the CAC’s Inter[SECTOR] program, this performance broadens engagement with New Orleans’ prison justice movement that is working to transform the conditions and policies that have led to Louisiana having the highest rates of incarceration in the nation.

Each performance of The Wait Room will be preceded by a moderated conversation featuring local artists and activist partners who are on the frontlines of ending mass incarceration.

  • Friday, May 27 at 7:30 PM: Bruce Reilly, Norris Henderson, and Ivy Mathis (Voice of the Experienced)

Learn more here.

Level Up Charity Dodgeball

Dodgeball Saga is a charity exhibition with teams of 6 battling to own bragging rights and team recognition for being the ultimate dodgeball champion of New Orleans and assisting with highlighting mental health issues that our communities are suffering from post-Covid-19. Level Up weekend will give youth and families an unforgettable experience and align professional health resources to individuals in need of assistance. You are invited to join us as we come together for a greater cause, to promote a more safe and healthy community for young people to thrive and be productive. The event will take place over 3 days May 27, 28, & 29, with activities for all ages to engage and be youthful. VOTE will be participating in the event on Saturday, May 28. 

If you would like to register a team or just come and enjoy, sign up here!

For more information on VOTE’s upcoming meetings and events, please review our calendar.