Jacobia Grimes, 34, could spend the rest of his life in prison after stealing candy. Grimes was caught after shoving $31 worth of candy bars into his clothing at a Dollar General store in Louisiana. It was his fifth (petty) offense, although all of his four priors were for theft of below $500. Under the state’s current “habitual offender’s law,” Grimes faces 20 years to life in prison.
Judge Franz Zibilich, who is presiding over the case, has already expressed his skepticism of the sentence. Yet with such mandatory sentencing laws, judges’ hands are often tied. The habitual-offender’s law in Louisiana has been in place for 30 years, and already there have been numerous cases of people being locked up for decades due to seemingly petty crimes.
While such laws may seem unconstitutional as it arguably constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, so far the Supreme Court has refused to look at proportionality in these cases. The Supreme Court has so far largely limited its considerations of the 8th amendment to capital punishment.
As of 2013, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate of any U.S. state, and indeed the world — 1,420 people per 100,000 are currently locked behind bars in the conservative southern state. Oklahoma comes in at second place with 1,300 per 100,000 locked up, while Alabama comes in third at 1,270.
Keeping people locked up isn’t cheap, and all three of these states, among others, are spending huge sums to maintain their prisons. In 2010, Alabama spent $445,514,000 on its prisons, while Louisiana spent $608,062,000, and Oklahoma sank $441,772,000.
As a result, prisons in these states, among others, are facing issues with over-crowding. Further, huge prison populations stretch already thin resources. Numerous studies have proven that rehabilitation is ultimately far more effective at keeping people out of prison, but with populations so high, such rehabilitation efforts may simply not be possible.