Kerry Myers served on the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force and says he’s dismayed at the people watching and waiting for the reforms to fail.
“There are some people in this state that would love to find the next Willie Horton," says Myers. "That’s unfortunate because that began driving policy – policy based on fear, policy based on ignorance.”
But Myers, who also served time at Angola, is a realist, as well.
"If you think it’s going to be perfect — if we release 1,900 people like were released on Nov. 1, that every one of those people are going to be perfect citizens — no," he says. "It’s not gonna happen."
Myers was the editor of the state penitentiary’s magazine, The Angolite, for 20 years before receiving a commutation of his life sentence in 2016. This year he’s serving on the Felony Class System Task Force — and working to change state law on voting rights for former felons.
"The Louisiana Constitution says people who are under an order of imprisonment are not allowed to vote," Myers explains. "It wasn't supposed to disenfranchise those who are on probation or parole."
There’s a lawsuit making its way through the state court system right now, challenging the disenfranchisement of probationers and parolees because members of the 1973 Constitutional Convention explicitly voted against suspending the voting rights of those two groups.
"Two and three years later, the Legislature passed two laws — suspending the right to vote for people who are on probation, and then suspending the right to vote for people who are on parole,” Myers says, adding, “One of the plaintiffs to the lawsuit has been on parole for 25 years.”
Noting there are about 72,000 Louisiana residents who have been disenfranchised due to those statutes, he then posed a question for those attending the Baton Rouge Press Club to ponder.
“How would politics change as we know it in Louisiana today, if suddenly 72,000 people were given the right to vote?”
But, he noted, “The people who are in opposition certainly don’t want that to happen.”