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March 23, 2017

"How long should Louisiana keep old, ill criminals in prison?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy NOLA.com article. Here are excerpts:

Emanuel Lee [is] doing life for strangling his girlfriend in New Orleans.... Lee arrived at Angola 26 years ago [and] unless something drastic changes, he will die at Angola, one of the hundreds of aging and ill inmates who are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to treat and incarcerate.

What to do with Lee and prisoners like him is likely to be a major topic of discussion in the Louisiana Legislature's 2017 session starting April 10. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to make a push to lower Louisiana's highest-in-the-world incarceration rate, in part by opening options for parole for non-violent offenders who serve shorter prison sentences. But the governor also has said he is interested in reducing the number of Louisiana inmates with longer sentences as well.

Many of Louisiana's older, long-term prisoners might no longer pose a threat to society, judging from national studies of recidivism. And for prisoners with serious illnesses, the costs of treatment can be daunting. Taxpayers are responsible for prison medical care, but some of that money could be used elsewhere, such as for higher education and mental health care for children, if ill prisoners were released.

The governor's task force on reducing the prison population recommended last week that Louisiana expand parole opportunities to prisoners with long sentences, including lifers. It suggested that lifers be eligible for parole after serving 30 years in prison and reaching age 50, unless they were convicted of first-degree murder. People serving long but less-than-life sentences should be eligible for parole after 20 years in prison and reaching age 45, even if they committed violent or sex crimes, according to the task force.

These provisions are often referred to as "geriatric parole." If put into place, geriatric parole would immediately make about 570 prisoners eligible for parole, and also would affect convicts who are sentenced in the future to life terms. Lee might come up for parole in four years, after serving 30 years of his sentence.

The task force has also suggested that Edwards and lawmakers make it easier for people with serious medical conditions, no matter their age, to get out of prison. They are proposing a medical furlough program to let any inmate who is not on death row be released temporarily from prison to a hospital or nursing home for medical treatment.

These recommendations aren't without controversy. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association has said geriatric parole and other proposals to let violent offenders out of prison are non-starters. The group's representative on the governor's task force, District Attorney Bo Duhe of the 16th Judicial District, voted against geriatric parole.

Duhe supported the medical furlough concept, but the District Attorneys Association said its members have concerns about that recommendation, too, and many want to alter it if it has a chance of becoming law. "Those issues have been suspect because of their potential for abuse," said Pete Adams, executive director of the association.

In a state where the law-and-order crowd insists "life means life," it's easy to see why some are nervous at the prospect of offering the possibility of freedom to a criminal who was banished for life, even if the criminal is sick, old or dying. Many of Louisiana's 4,850 lifers have committed very serious crimes....

Louisiana is an outlier in how it punishes crimes such as Lee's. Only Louisiana and one other state, Mississippi, mandate life without parole for second-degree murder; there is no option in the law. In Texas that crime is punished by five to 99 years in prison, with parole eligibility after 30 years. In Arkansas, it is a 10- to 40-year sentence, according to a report issued by the Louisiana governor's sentencing task force....

One of the arguments for giving older inmates a shot at parole, even those convicted of violent crime, centers on their unlikelihood of committing crimes again. Research suggests that most people "age out" of criminal activity after their 20s....

Even if parole becomes possible for people with life sentences, it's not automatic. That's a decision for the Pardons and Parole Board, which in 2015 granted only 2 percent of discretionary parole requests, according to the governor's task force report....

While some advocates for geriatric and medical parole make a moral argument to release old or ill prisoners, there is also a practical reason: It's expensive for the public. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Department of Corrections spent about $52.3 million on hospital and medical wards in its prisons, plus $22.7 million for health care at off-site locations, for a total of $75 million.

Older inmates require treatment for dementia, blindness, hypertension, hearing loss and vision problems at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. Older people who have been locked up for decades are more likely to need medical care than a person who is the same age but not in prison: They go to the doctor about five times more often, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

March 23, 2017 at 10:18 AM | Permalink


I would say that in such cases the state should not be responsible for anything more than hospice-type care. Treat pain rather than cancer, for example. Natural life is just that, extraordinary medical intervention can extend life far past its natural end.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 23, 2017 11:52:32 AM

This old criminal mounted the London terror attack. It was 100% the fault of the lawyer profession in England, that kept him alive, protected, and privileged. He should have been executed as soon as palatable after age 14. We would have been 4 innocent people ahead, had the lawyer not protected this repeat violent offender.

From the Daily Mail:

'However, he was known to police and has a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences.

'His first conviction was in November 1983 for criminal damage and his last conviction was in December 2003 for possession of a knife. He has not been convicted for any terrorism offences.'

Masood stabbed PC Keith Palmer to death with two knives outside parliament after killing mother-of-two Aysha Frade and US tourist Kurt Cochran as he ploughed along a crowded pavement on Westminster Bridge.

A 75-year-old man who was injured in the attack died tonight.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 23, 2017 8:04:49 PM

The guy strangled is girlfriend, and now the state is paying for his care?

Here's a suggestion: If you are convicted of murder and don't get the DP, the jury can recommend whether or not the State should be expected to pay for your medical care.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Mar 24, 2017 12:23:04 AM

If the person would have Medicaid or Medicare otherwise, should it be revoked if they are convicted of a crime? If not "a crime," what crime? If the person has a means to pay for health insurance, figure there is a way to attach his or assets for that purpose. Another reason for subsidies -- in NY, e.g., you can get basic insurance for $20 monthly or so & even money some make in prison might be able to cover that.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 24, 2017 8:57:55 PM

Uh, I don't know how to break this to you, but the United States Constitution protects everyone in the United States, even those who are incarcerated.

Posted by: MarK M. | Mar 24, 2017 10:52:18 PM

Shhhh! Mark that is has been a state secret now going on 40-50 years. Just ask any judge

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 25, 2017 1:05:53 AM

Joe. Disability payments, Medicaid and Medicare are suspended the months one is prison.

Imprisonment effects on Veterans Administration benefits are a bit more complex, and reviewed here.


Transporting vets to clinics and waiting 3 hours to be seen, every 4 weeks, can be expensive for a prison. For the rest, health care comes from the prison budget. It is only bottomed by threat of litigation, of both the medical malpractice and constitutional tort varieties.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 25, 2017 2:25:50 PM


I don't see health care anywhere in the rights protected by the constitution.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 26, 2017 1:13:18 AM

Given that higher age of release is the characteristic that seems to be most heavily correlated with lower recidivism, what do we think about making the sentence for a subset of crimes dependent on offender age? That would take incapacitation to a logical conclusion.

For example:

Instead of "3 Strikes you're out," the mandatory minimum for a 3rd felony is 10 years or until the age of 50, whichever is longer. The mandatory minimum for a 4th felony is 10 years or until the age of 65, whichever is longer.


The mandatory minimum for first use of a gun to commit a felony is 7 years or until the age of 30, whichever is longer. The mandatory minimum for second use is 10 years, or until the age of 50, whichever is longer.

You get the point.

Constitutional? Moral? What do you think?

Posted by: Levin | Mar 26, 2017 12:02:05 PM

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Posted by: john richmond | Apr 29, 2017 10:21:41 AM

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