NEW ORLEANS (AP) – In recent years, hundreds of people who were once destined to spend the rest of their lives in prison after being convicted of crimes as juveniles have been released after the Supreme Court ruled that the Young people are capable of change and must be given a second chance.
But so far, the man whose case has been pivotal to this change, 75-year-old Henry Montgomery, remains behind bars nearly six decades after his arrest in 1963. That may change Wednesday when a Louisiana parole board votes. for the third time if you grant Montgomery parole.
“The state has received some fifty-eight years of the life of Henry Montgomery. He doesn’t have much left. What is the value of making him spend a couple more years there? I, for one, can’t see him, ”said Andrew Hundley, who heads the Louisiana Probation Project that will provide Montgomery with a home and support in the event of his release.
Montgomery was arrested after fatally shooting Charles Hurt, an East Baton Rouge deputy sheriff, who caught him skipping school. Montgomery was 17 at the time. He was initially sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court threw out his conviction in 1966, saying he did not get a fair trial. The case was re-tried, Montgomery was sentenced again, but this time he was sentenced to life in prison.
When Montgomery went to jail, and for decades after, the “lock them up and throw away the key” attitude dominated law enforcement and society, especially in Louisiana, where the incarceration rate has been consistently the highest in the country. . Juvenile delinquents, often portrayed as irredeemable “super predators,” were no exception.
But recent Supreme Court rulings have begun to undermine these juvenile life sentences as the country has begun to rethink “tough on crime” approaches.
In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled that the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders was a “cruel and unusual” punishment. The court’s decision was based on the idea that children’s minds and impulse controls are still developing and they are often acting recklessly. The court determined that minors are capable of growth and change and, except in the most serious cases, must be given the opportunity to get out of jail.
In 2016, the Supreme Court took Montgomery’s case and made its previous decision retroactively, giving hundreds of minors for life a chance at freedom.
Since Montgomery’s court decision, some 800 people who had been sentenced to life in prison without parole as minors have been released. according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. About 656 people are serving life without parole for crimes they committed as children, up from 2,800 about five years ago, the organization said.
Advocates also point to the radical changes that have occurred in the nearly decade since Miller’s decision. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have completely banned the use of life without parole for juvenile offenders, up from five states in 2012. In six other states, the sentence still exists, but no youth is serving life in prison. without parole.
In Louisiana, approximately 96 of approximately 300 former lifetime juveniles incarcerated at the time of Montgomery’s decision have been released, according to data compiled by the Probation Project and the Louisiana Center for the Rights of the Child, representing children who go through the judicial system. But Louisiana hasn’t eliminated life without parole for minors, and LCCR advocates say many children are being sentenced to life without parole in the years after the crucial 2012 Supreme Court ruling. ruling as after him, generally children of color.
When Montgomery began serving his sentence in Angola, it was a violent place, where attacks on prisoners and guards were common. There were few rehabilitation programs, especially for prisoners who were never expected to experience freedom again.
Some of the programs, like the boxing club, were ones that Montgomery himself helped start, his followers say. She has worked for years at the prison’s screen printing shop, where one of her attorneys during the last parole board hearing said he had been named employee of the month more times than she could count.
Over the past year, the coronavirus has limited Montgomery’s contact with the outside world, said his attorney Keith Nordyke. The elderly Montgomery is extremely hard of hearing, making zoom calls difficult, Nordyke said. In previous parole hearings, Montgomery has had trouble understanding what is being said.
Hurt, the deputy sheriff who killed Montgomery, was married with three children. Two of his daughters met Montgomery in prison and forgave him, but family members have opposed his release. Hurt’s grandson JP deGravelles, who is also in law enforcement, said the family is not acting out of revenge and that if Montgomery gets parole, deGravelles wishes him well. But his grandfather will never have that chance in life again.
“This is not a witch hunt for us. We just thought they gave him a sentence, and a fair sentence and he should carry it out, “said deGravelles.” The murder of a police officer is a direct assault on the very fabric of society. “
If Montgomery is paroled, he will become a client of the Louisiana Parole Project. The organization, started in 2016 by Hundley, who is also a former juvenile for life, helps criminals who have served long sentences re-enter society. They would provide Montgomery with a place to stay and help you with important steps to re-enter society, such as obtaining an ID card, enrolling in health insurance, learning how to use a cell phone or computer, and making sure you have your medications. .
Hundley worries that if Montgomery doesn’t get parole this time, he could die in prison. In 2019, the three-member board voted 2-1 to let him out, but the decision had to be unanimous. This time, a simple majority would suffice. Hundley has asked Montgomery what he would like to do if he is released.
“He wants to be able to watch the sunrise without looking through the barbed wire. That is what you are waiting for. That’s what he thinks about, “Hundley said.