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September 27, 2022

Taking account of extreme sentences under "habitual offender" laws in Mississippi and Louisiana

Tana Ganeva has this lengthy new piece at The Appeal which details the impact and import of repeat offender laws in two southern states. The full title of this piece previews in coverage: "'Habitual Offender' Laws Imprison Thousands for Small Crimes — Sometimes for Life: Data obtained by The Appeal show nearly 2,000 people in Mississippi and Louisiana are serving long — and sometimes life — sentences after they were labeled “habitual offenders." But most are behind bars for small crimes like drug possession." I recommend the full piece and here are some excerpts:

The Appeal took a deeper look at Louisiana and Mississippi, states that changed their laws in 1994 or 1995 and now have some of the highest rates of incarcerated people in the country.  The Appeal sent freedom of information requests to both the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections for data on people serving 20-year-plus sentences and, where possible, information regarding whether their sentences had been enhanced by a habitual offender statute.  We broke the data down by race, crime, time served, and sentence. In total, datasets suggest there are close to 2,000 people currently serving long sentences enhanced by habitual offender statutes in these two states.

A small number of these people in these two states committed serious crimes.  But most are serving 20-plus years primarily because of habitual offender status, where the triggering offense was drug possession, drug sale, illegal gun possession, or another crime besides murder or rape.  Scores of people are serving virtual or literal life sentences for nonviolent drug possession....

In the mid-1990s, Mississippi instituted some of the most restrictive habitual offender laws in the country and virtually did away with parole for repeat offenders....  According to data analyzed by The Appeal, as of August 4, 2021, there were nearly 600 people in Mississippi who were serving 20 years or more with no parole date and were considered habitual offenders....  In Mississippi, 75 percent of “habitual offenders” are Black, while 25 percent are white. (Other racial groups make up a negligible number.) ...

The majority of habitual offender convictions analyzed by The Appeal are linked to possession of drugs, possession of firearms, or contraband in prison. In the most extreme cases, multiple people convicted of drug crimes were given virtual life sentences because of their habitual offender status.  Perry Armstead is serving 63 years for five charges of cocaine possession and sales. Keith Baskin is serving 60 years for possession of cannabis with intent to distribute. Timothy Bell is serving 80 years after being convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon and selling meth twice. Malcolm Crump is serving 56 years for selling meth on three occasions. Paul Houser got 60 years for meth. Anthony Jefferson got 60 years for possession of cannabis with intent to distribute....

There are nearly 900 people serving sentences longer than 20 years in Louisiana because of habitual offender statutes who aren’t eligible for parole. (Overall, there are more than four thousand people serving life without parole in the state.)

According to data acquired through a freedom of information request, the most serious crimes are in the minority. Less than 3 percent of those imprisoned due to habitual offender status were convicted of first-degree murder.  Slightly less than 5 percent are serving time for second-degree murder. Almost 6 percent are serving time for rape. Meanwhile, 12.6 percent are serving 20-plus years because of habitual offender statutes triggered by a drug crime.  Of those serving decades for drug crimes, 49 people were convicted for possession, 34 for possession with intent to distribute, and 31 for distribution.

September 27, 2022 at 08:12 AM | Permalink

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