Voices from Inside: Our Currently-Incarcerated Members React to HB 1077

Legislators at the Louisiana Capitol have expressed various motivations regarding prison issues, including the current legal challenge regarding approximately 1500 people who languish in prison with non-unanimous convictions. Most of these people are currently sentenced until their death. The U.S. Supreme Court instructed Louisiana that retroactively reversing these (now universally recognized as) unconstitutional convictions is up to them, and both the legislature and courts have been called upon to act. 

VOTE’s most recent email to legislators regarding HB 1077 invited them to visit people in prison and ask their views on the bill. And only yesterday, in a hearing regarding counting incarcerated people as “residents” of a district for the purpose of apportioning legislative power, several legislators expressed their close connection to the prisons. Rep. Lacombe, who represents 6000 residents confined in Angola, called them a part of the “community.” Rep. Deshotel, who represents people confined in two prisons in the Cottonport area mentioned his support for capital outlay projects (a.k.a. prison construction and repairs). Rep. Ivey explained how he hears from people in prison “all the time,” albeit via family members of the currently incarcerated. Rep. Gaines, who sponsored HB 1077, has expressed how he is trying to help the 1500 convicted through Jim Crow trials, and believes this bill, creating parole eligibility, may be the best we can do.

Despite all those declarations of community, we’ve heard no responses from lawmakers wishing to visit. Here is a sampling of what they would hear from people actually locked away without a key.  [formatted for clarity]

Keith A.

“Now, to express the general sentiments of those incarcerated, concerning the DEATH BILL HB 1077. 

Most of the 10-2’ers I’ve talked to are not only opposed to, but in utter disbelief by the sham that the legislature is attempting to enact by this bill. Here are some viewpoints: 

  • The Special Committee on Parole amounts to a 13th juror, or basically a retrial of our cases. 
  • The impaneling of members: 
    • Three retired judges- what will be their political slant? (will the Governor consider or be prohibited from considering Ret. Justice B. Johnson?) 
    • One retired District Attorney- will this selection be from one of the parishes that is against granting relief of non-unanimous juries? 
    • One retired public defender- after finding that the IDB [Indigent Defender Board] was unconstitutionally ineffective, could a petitioner elect to hire a private attorney for adequate representation?
  • Section F(1)(e) stipulates that the DA will be permitted to file a written response to the petitioner’s application. Will the petitioner be allowed to submit a Brief in Support of his PCR, or traverse the state’s rebuttal? 
  • Section 2(b) allows for any testimony of the petitioner or victim. Will this infringe upon the petitioner’s 6th Amendment right to confrontation and cross – examination? 
  • Miscarriage of Justice is clearly established by the non-unanimous jury verdict itself. 
  • Vote for parole. * 3/5 for non-lifers * 5/5 for lifers. Why the disparity of votes for the same finding of erroneous application of the law? 
  • Submit entirety of records: An extra burden on petitioner. * costs (upward of $300 for transcripts) * time of obtaining documents will toll the time period for filing for parole. 
  • Section 2 stipulates that “The provisions of this Act shall terminate either three years after the effective date of this Act or upon a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court that the holding in Ramos v. La. is retroactive. * If this board will be terminated in 3 years, by mathematical assumption, this Board will have to review; * 1500 cases in 36 months; * 500 cases a year; * 42 cases a month; * 10 cases a week; * 2 cases a day. Albeit, this will be in lieu of reviewing court documents that are on the average of 500-800 pages a case. Can these “Super-Justices”, with legal clarity; review, discuss, deliberate, and decide the fate of two cases a day, every week, every month, for three consecutive years? 
Continue reading Voices from Inside: Our Currently-Incarcerated Members React to HB 1077

The Reddick Case, Criminalizing Abortion, & More!

Legislative Session Updates


In 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that its decision in Ramos v. Louisiana held that the Sixth Amendment requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone—does not apply to those who were wrongly convicted before that decision.

Tuesday, May 10th, the LA Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Reddick v. Louisiana, the case to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ramos decision should apply retroactively to people convicted by Jim Crow juries.

The surprising part about the State’s argument in favor of keeping people convicted under Jim Crow juries is how poorly it was crafted and defended. However, those of us who have been fighting the system know, even those of us who help a wrongfully convicted person be released after decades, that the State need not craft good arguments.

The State rested its case on two major points: (1) There are no watershed new rules, i.e. there is nothing groundbreaking to change in the realm of our criminal legal system. (2) The Legislature is crafting a remedy, so the Court need not do anything.

Within the State’s argument that we lack the resources to provide new trials for 1500 people, they said: “only about 50-100 people are actually innocent.” Let that sink in. They did not propose how to figure out who those 50 to 100 people are (typically, this is only done through a trial). They merely said that constitutional trials should not be required for people already convicted. Considering that someone who is wrongfully convicted can obtain up to $500,000 from the State, perhaps they see it as a cost savings move to not pay out $50 Million dollars to them? 

The Court will now talk amongst themselves. We should not expect a ruling prior to the Legislative Session concluding. Read our full analysis here.

Continue reading The Reddick Case, Criminalizing Abortion, & More!

State v. Reddick Oral Arguments: Our Takeaways

Reginald Reddick’s family and legal team address the media at the the Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The surprising part about the State’s argument in favor of keeping people convicted under Jim Crow juries is how poorly it was crafted and defended. However, those of us who have been fighting the system know, even those of us who help a wrongfully convicted person be released after decades, that the State need not craft good arguments. The judges defend the State already. So the question becomes:

Did any of the oral arguments matter?

Either way, here are some nuggets:

The State rested its case on two major points: (1) There are no watershed new rules, i.e. there is nothing groundbreaking to change in the realm of our criminal legal system. (2) The Legislature is crafting a remedy, so the Court need not do anything.

First, although a unanimous jury system may not be groundbreaking for the rest of the country, it is certainly a “watershed” here. The ballot amendment, and then the Ramos decision, resulted in hundreds of people having convictions overturned, and resetting the bar for the thousands of trials to come. The State’s argument here is extremely weak. Up until 1978, a DA only needed to convince 9 out of 12 people to convict, and then from 1978 to 2019 needed ten. Jumping all the way to 12 is massive, and only now does “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” mean anything. And as Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) lawyer Jamila Johnson pointed out, people are by our constitution: “Innocent until proven guilty.” Thus, “prove” is intended to have real meaning.

Second, the State lawyer repeatedly brought up HB 744, a bill that Chief Justice Weimer was clearly in the know about, a “compromise” remedy which would provide a possible parole option for the roughly 1500 people languishing behind bars because of non-unanimous juries. Just last week, Louisiana District Attorneys’ Association representative Loren Lampert assured the House Judiciary Committee that they would not argue to the Court that a remedy is on the way. As we noted in that judiciary committee hearing, moving HB 744 forward creates a false hope for everyone involved—including the LASC. And while Loren Lampert sat immediately behind the State’s lawyer, he didn’t make the 744 argument. His colleague did it for him.

Jamila responded with more realistic points: how late we are in the Legislative Session, how any bill would need to go through Appropriations, through the Senate, and likely need to return to the House for final passage. And quite importantly, how these “panels” never seem to work out anyway. More on HB 744—the False Hope bill—here

Continue reading State v. Reddick Oral Arguments: Our Takeaways

Louisiana DAs: The Unification of State Powers & Non-Unanimous Jury Retroactivity

A page from the official journal of the proceedings of the Constitutional convention of the state of Louisiana, held in New Orleans, Tuesday, February 8, 1898, published in New Orleans, and printed by H.J. Hearsey

Drawing up the documents to forge American democracy was an often fraught process—the many disagreements of the framers can be found in the Federalist Papers of John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, and the personal writings of people such as Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Despite those disagreements, and the amended Bill of Rights that came soon thereafter, several key principles were without controversy; one of which is the “Separation of Powers” that creates our three branches of government who are designed to provide “checks and balances” on each other.

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

—James Madison, The Federalist Papers

The Legislative Branch, being the representative voice of the people, would create the laws. The Executive Branch, headed by an elected Chief Executive, faithfully carries out the will of the people. The Judicial Branch makes the wise rulings, including whether the Executive oversteps their authority, or if the legislature creates unconstitutional laws.

In Louisiana, the Executive Branch is represented by a term-limited Governor, along with district attorneys and sheriffs who are not term-limited. The DAs have a legislative lobby called the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA), and the sheriffs have a legislative lobby as well. These two groups are currently represented by Loren Lampert and Mike Renatza, respectively. These lobbying groups are the most powerful political forces in Louisiana. They write laws and amendments to other proposed laws. Nothing is passed over their objections.

The term-limited legislators consistently explain that they will follow the lead of their local district attorney and local sheriff, rather than follow the lead of their constituents. When a bill was proposed to term-limit sheriffs, the only testimony against the proposal were sheriffs themselves, not voters. The defense of no-limits was that voters could simply choose to unelect a 20-year incumbent, as though mounting a victorious campaign is so simple, particularly against a figure universally accepted as the most powerful political official in a parish, with the power to raise their own monies and who are not accountable to any oversight.

The U.S. Supreme Court was needed to declare Louisiana’s non-unanimous juries unconstitutional. After well over a century of district attorneys using this Jim Crow tool, which was explicitly created to ensure White Supremacy (a fact spelled out in the all-white Constitutional Convention of 1898, and universally accepted today), the LDAA fought the demise of 10-2 verdicts every step of the way. They fight it still. They, along with the Attorney General, will argue to the Louisiana Supreme Court that this unconstitutional tool (used only by two overtly discriminating states) should keep the fruits of their unjust labor.  They will argue that every person still alive who was victimized by this tool should stay convicted. Case closed.

Continue reading Louisiana DAs: The Unification of State Powers & Non-Unanimous Jury Retroactivity

A New Sheriff in Town, Non-Unanimous Jury Updates, Monthly Meetings & More!

Norris Henderson speaks to press at the LA Legislature, May 2021

Legislative Session Updates


The struggle continues for those of us fighting to end the damage caused by unconstitutional Jim Crow verdicts. Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 744, a flawed bill that would create a parole possibility for some of the people imprisoned under non-unanimous verdicts. Unlike the Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) issue, where the system had to fix unconstitutional sentences, we are now tasked with fixing unconstitutional convictions. Parole eligibility leaves the conviction intact, and history shows us that this “fix” would most likely be no more than a false hope. When a global pandemic swept through packed dormitories and people were suffering and dying, the System finally responded to public pressure by creating a compassionate release process. Even after narrowing the eligibility down to less than 10% of the incarcerated people, with an entire structure planned out on how to review those convicted of non-violent offenses and already near the end of their sentences: they released 13 people. 

Continue reading A New Sheriff in Town, Non-Unanimous Jury Updates, Monthly Meetings & More!

Opinion: Nothing to Laugh About, Jailbirds New Orleans Makes a Mockery of the Incarcerated

At VOTE we stand by our commitment to amplify the voices of our currently and formerly incarcerated family. As Louisiana has once again ranked above all other states as the most incarcerated place in America, we see a stronger need to dispel any form of illusions as to what serving time looks like.

I did not want to watch a “scandalous” reality TV show that follows a handful of women over a few days in jail. I figured it would be a bunch of people yelling at each other, arguing over the phone, and some patronizing morality play on a mother with addiction. But when the show is set in our jail, here in New Orleans, which is under a federal consent decree and being run by a shady sheriff in a re-election campaign, it was sadly my duty to watch and review.

Continue reading Opinion: Nothing to Laugh About, Jailbirds New Orleans Makes a Mockery of the Incarcerated

Victory a Long Time Coming: In Historic Court Win Louisiana Civil Rights Groups Bring to Light Overwhelming Medical Disparities at Angola

I write this today in celebration. This has been a long time coming. Finally that voice crying out in the wilderness got heard.

For those who don’t know the background of this historic case, let me fill you in. In 2015 civil rights lawyers in Louisiana filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the more than 6,000 people imprisoned at Angola. Lewis v. Cain argued that patients at Angola had undergone inexcusable and abhorrent treatment, often resulting in continued suffering in place of treatment, refusing to test for ailments despite symptoms, being afflicted with preventable illnesses, over-medication, and untimely death. This win, six years later, is a tremendous moment and a monumental turning point, in DOC accountability.

Continue reading Victory a Long Time Coming: In Historic Court Win Louisiana Civil Rights Groups Bring to Light Overwhelming Medical Disparities at Angola

Statement Regarding Lafayette Library Board’s Rejection of Voting Rights Education Grant

Lafayette Public Library’s downtown branch in 2018, photo by Leslie Westbrook.

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) Lafayette condemns the Lafayette Library Board’s decision to reject a grant for an educational program about voting rights and disenfranchisement. While we are pleased to hear that the program will instead be put on by University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Edith Garland Dupré Library, the decision from the parish library remains deeply troubling. Board members voted against the grant because the program speakers were “extremely far left,” and instead needed to show “both sides.” The board’s formal statement Monday doubled down on their decision to reject the program’s “potentially controversial” topics.

“This is something that they’re refusing to do as a library, which is supposed to offer facts and information that people can use,” said Consuela Gaines, VOTE Chapter Organizer for Lafayette. “It’s voter suppression to not want to educate people. It’s Black History Month, and I think that’s why they wanted to offer a grant like this, so that those people who are most oppressed by not being allowed to vote aren’t still left in the dark. They still wanted to create an opportunity for people to be educated on the long history behind voting rights.”

Gaines continued: 

“In doing this, [the library board] made it a partisan thing. Nothing that these speakers could say would be partisan because it could be fact-checked, it would be on record. A lot of the history of voting rights is unfortunately based on voter suppression and people’s skin color. History is history. There are people in our community who are really upset about this, especially since there are so few Black History Month programs being done [compared to previous years] because of the pandemic. For them to pass this up makes no sense.”

VOTE Lafayette and other VOTE chapters across the state continue to fight one of the most common forms of disenfranchisement: misinformation. While thousands of people with convictions have their voting rights back due to the 2019 passage of Act 636, many do not know they’re even eligible to register. This small grant at the public library was a chance to combat just that kind of disenfranchisement. When democratic institutions decide not to share facts because of fear — or worse, disagreement with the facts — we must question the institution itself.

We look forward to the series’ presentation at ULL and the fruitful community discussion it will create.

Biden’s Executive Order Feels Like Progress: It Isn’t

President Joe Biden signing the Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System

As soon as it happened, the tweets, posts, and messages began: “President Biden is shutting down private prisons!” For some of us, we read past the headline. For others of us, we recall the day President Obama issued the same Executive Order — which was subsequently repealed by Trump.

While Obama’s order was to not renew some contracts in the federal system, none of those contracts actually ended during his administration. When Trump repealed the order, some of the contracts were renewed… But now we have a restoration of the order that the contracts should be left to expire. See what is happening here?

More importantly, the order applies to less than 10% of the facilities within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and less than 10% of the prisons that are holding people for felony convictions. It only amounts to about 14,000 people. It does not touch the many facilities that form the heart of America’s immigrant detention Gulag; around 80% of people in ICE custody are held in private facilities. It does not apply to the private prisons that hold people pre-trial, nor the ones that hold people in state custody. And of course, it does not apply to public prisons, which make up 91% of US prisons and jails.

Most importantly, the order does not get at what is actually wrong with prisons: incarceration.

Read more from our friend, author and professor Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, whose Op-ed is the most comprehensive and accurate writing on the Executive Order.

This Year We Built People Power

VOTE members and staff, including Executive Director Norris Henderson and Deputy Director Bruce Reilly, stand in front of one of VOTE’s voting rights billboard in New Orleans.

This year’s election season was as important as it was long. It felt both like a marathon and a sprint. November 3 brought significant victories both locally and nationwide, but for us in Louisiana, it didn’t end there. Many parishes also had a runoff election on December 5. Our VOTE family of organizers, canvassers, members, and partners kept energy high, and the results showed just how much our state was ready for change. Once we reached the finish line, our hard work paid off. Justice reform was on the ballot and justice reform WON.

​This election season, two of our biggest wins were the people power we built and the progressive candidates we elected. Even through the physical separation of social distancing, our VOTE team was showing up. On Oct. 24, as part of the national “Justice Votes” day, VOTE rallied across the state to celebrate the formerly incarcerated communities’ right to vote. In Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, we rallied, listened to speakers, and hit the polls as a family, showing what a true movement looks like. 

Continue reading This Year We Built People Power