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Pushing for proportional sentencing

Criminal Justice | Recent parole decision sheds light on Louisiana’s habitual offender law
by Charissa Koh
Posted 10/21/20, 05:40 pm

Fair Wayne Bryant left the Louisiana State Penitentiary after serving 23 years of a life sentence for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers. The 63-year-old African American man received parole on Oct. 15 and went to a transitional program, where he will stay until eventually moving in with his brother in Shreveport.

A court convicted Bryant in 1997 of attempted burglary after someone saw him taking hedge clippers from a carport storeroom. Louisiana law considered him a habitual offender due to four previous convictions. Only one of those, armed robbery, was violent, but he received a life sentence. Bryant made several appeals, claiming his sentence was unconstitutional and out of proportion with his crime.

In July, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review his case. Five of the seven justices voted no without an explanation, and one recused himself. Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote a dissent comparing Bryant’s sentence to Reconstruction laws in the South that lowered the bar of crime and increased the penalties. “These measures enabled southern states to continue using forced-labor (as punishment for a crime) by African Americans even after the passage of the 13th Amendment,” she wrote. She also noted his incarceration had cost the state about $518,667. “If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost 1 million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she said.

The Louisiana State University Parole and Reentry Clinic took up Bryant’s case and represented him before the parole board. “Mr. Bryant’s sentence is an example of the flaws in Louisiana’s criminal legal system,” said Kelsey Jenkins, an LSU student who worked on Bryant’s case.

The conditions of Bryant’s parole include a curfew, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and community service.


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Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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Comments

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  • Big Jim
    Posted: Thu, 10/22/2020 01:47 am

    I must have missed something. This makes no sense at all.

  • HANNAH.
    Posted: Thu, 10/22/2020 04:11 pm

    I agree that this article is extremely confusing. It doesn't help that the nbc news link ("man received parole") is not available. Is this the sequence of events?

    1. Bryant sentenced to life imprisonment for stealing hedge clippers (because he was a "habitual offender" with one "violent" crime in the string of offenses. He serves 23 years.

    2. His case is appealed, but must have been unchanged in lower court(s). In July 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court refuses to even hear his case.

    3. Here's where the confusion lies. Bryant somehow receives parole. This is what the article needs to clarify. If the state's supreme court let stand the life sentence, how did Bryant get out of prison?

    I'm glad that Mr. Bryant did receive parole with the stated conditions -- hope for restoration of body and soul.

  • HANNAH.
    Posted: Tue, 10/27/2020 05:58 pm

    Thank you, Charissa Koh, for adding clarification at the bottom of the article -- about Mr. Bryant being represented before the parole board. May his life be redeemed by the compassionate action of his advocates, the decision of the parole board, and the conditions of his release. Ultimately, may he accept the supreme redemption of his life by our Savior, Jesus.

  • AS
    Posted: Sat, 10/24/2020 09:32 am

    I would be interested in more discussion on this. My initial reaction to the headline was to wonder why he received such an unfair sentence. Then I read that he had several prior convictions, one of which was for a violent crime. Armed robbery seems like a big deal to me and makes me wonder why he wasn't behind bars for a long time on that conviction. I know the justice system needs reform, but I guess I'm not sure if this is an example of the injustices or not. If it were only about hedge clippers, then sure. But is it only about the hedge clippers? I'm not sure that my insight is adequate on this. 

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