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Bill would make habitual offenders eligible for parole, now goes to Senate

Habitual offenders convicted of drug offenses and other "victimless offenses" were given a hopeful piece of news on Thursday when the Louisiana House passed a measure proposing to give them the opportunity to be released from prison.

The measure, which is supported by the state Department of Corrections, reportedly has the goal of helping to ease overcrowded prisons throughout the state. The bill requires inmates to display good behavior, receive necessary substance abuse treatment and obtain a GED or partake of other educational opportunities. Those requirements fulfilled, an inmate would be eligible for parole and would have to present before the parole board prior to release.

Prisoners would be eligible for parole only after serving a number of years. The length of time would depend on their age upon entering prison. Those who were sentenced between 18 and 25 would need to serve at least 25 years. Those sentenced when they were 50 years or older would need to serve at least 10 years.

Various critics of the measure say offenders the measure runs the risk of turning loose those who are most likely to fall back into crime, that it could result in co-conspirators serving different sentences for the same crime, and that it makes older offenders wait until an advanced age to apply for parole.

Sources said that only 10 offenders in the state's prison system have served enough time to qualify for parole under the measure.

It isn't clear how widespread support for the bill is yet, but it is hoped that it is able to get through the Senate, and from there be signed into law. The prisons are filled with men and women who are ready to start over, but are just waiting for the opportunity to do so. This measure is a small step in allowing habitual offenders that opportunity.

Source: The Advocate, "Habitual offender measure advances to Senate," Michelle Millhollon, April 20, 2012

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