Crime Black man serving life sentence for stealing hedge clippers granted parole
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A Black man in Louisiana serving life in prison for stealing hedge clippers more than two decades ago was granted parole —.
The Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted Thursday to grant parole to Fair Wayne Bryant, 63,show. He has served more than 20 years in prison at the state penitentiary in Angola.
His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. Thecalled the board's decision a "long-overdue victory."
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States spend $2.8 billion incarcerating people for noncriminal probation violationsWhile working as a criminal justice reform advocate the past two years, Johnson feared she could be returned to prison for missing an appointment with a supervisor, traveling across state lines without written permission, or committing a paperwork error. These and other technical violations put tens of thousands of people on probation back behind bars each year. Though not crimes, they are jailable offenses for someone under community supervision.
Bryant was 38 when he was arrested in January 1997 for taking a pair of clippers from a carport storeroom at a home in Shreveport. The homeowner was alerted to the theft and chased Bryant off.
That same year, a jury convicted him of attempted simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling, and Bryant, who had previous convictions, was sentenced to life in prison because he was considered a "habitual" offender under state law.
Bryant in previous appeals argued that his sentence was "unconstitutionally harsh." But in July, the state's Supreme Court declined to review his sentence. A court spokesperson told NBC News in August that five of the court's seven justices, all white men, denied his request without giving an explanation.
One justice, Scott Crichton, recused himself from the case while Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote in athat his sentence was "excessive."
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"This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose," Johnson wrote, comparing it to the post-Reconstruction era laws that mandated harsh penalties for petty theft associated with poverty.
She said those laws “were largely designed to re-enslave African Americans" and "undoubtedly contributed to the expansion of the Black prison population that began in the 1870s."
"And this case demonstrates their modern manifestation: harsh habitual offender laws that permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes," Johnson wrote.
Bryant had several past convictions, including the possession of stolen things, simple burglary and attempted forgery. His only violent conviction, the chief justice noted in her dissent, was for armed robbery in 1979.
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Neither the severity of Bryant's sentence nor its racial implications were addressed during Thursday's parole panel. The board members, two white and one Black, noted that Bryant had been arrested more than 20 times and had 11 prior convictions.
They also said that during his imprisonment he attended drug and anger management programs and had not had any recent disciplinary problems.
Under the conditions of his parole, Bryant will have a curfew, must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and complete community service. He also has to enter into a program in Baton Rouge that helps prisoners adjust to life after they are released. Eventually, he will be allowed to live with his brother in Shreveport.
Bryant told the panel that he had a drug problem but said during his time in prison he's been able to "recognize that problem and to be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
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