- A Black man in Louisiana sentenced to life in prison was released on parole this week after serving nearly 24 years in prison for stealing hedge clippers.
- The Louisiana ACLU called his release a “long-overdue victory” and called for the repeal of the state’s habitual offender law, which says a person who is convicted of more than one felony will receive longer sentences for each new conviction.
- The Chief Justice of the state’s Supreme Court said the habitual offender laws were a “modern manifestation” of laws passed during Reconstruction that were “designed to re-enslave African Americans.”
A Black man in Louisiana sentenced to life in prison was released on parole this week after serving nearly 24 years in prison for stealing hedge clippers, the Associated Press reported.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, was serving a life sentence for stealing a pair of hedge clippers from a private carport in 1997. During the incident, he was chased away by the homeowner.
His lengthy sentence was due to the state’s Habitual Offender Statute, which says a person who is convicted of more than one felony will receive longer sentences for each new conviction, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, who called Bryant’s release a “long-overdue victory.”
“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences, and for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses,” it said in a statement.
The parole board discussed Bryant’s conviction record, which included burglary, forgery, and armed robbery, as well as his history of substance abuse.
“I had a drug problem,” Bryant said, according to the Associated Press. “But I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and to be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
Under his parole conditions, Bryant must abide by a curfew, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and do community service. He is also entering a program with the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated people transition to life after prison.
The parole board voted on Thursday to release Bryant after the Louisiana Supreme Court had denied his release earlier this year.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the only Black person on Louisiana’s Supreme Court, wrote a dissent about the court’s decision, saying that “such petty theft is frequently driven by the ravages of poverty or addiction” and calling the sentence “cruel and unusual.”
She said the habitual offender laws were a “modern manifestation” of laws passed during Reconstruction that was “designed to re-enslave African Americans.”