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Louisiana considers education access for the incarcerated — including those on death row

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Louisiana considers education access for the incarcerated — including those on death row

Nov 28, 2023 | 5:18 pm ET
By Piper Hutchinson
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Louisiana considers education access for the incarcerated — including those on death row
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Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Whether Louisiana should spend more money and provide more options for the education and job training of its incarcerated population — including those who’ve been sentenced to death — is being explored by a task force that met for the first time Tuesday.

The task force, made up of higher education representatives, corrections officials, formerly incarcerated people and criminal justice advocates, was created through House Resolution 174, which Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, authored earlier this year. Tulane University sociologist Marko Salvaggio chairs the group. 

The initial meeting was largely organizational, going over the scope and goals of the committee, which must submit its report to the legislature before March 1, just ahead of its regular session slated to begin March 11. Task force reports are non-binding and typically used to help draft legislation. 

Louisiana offers some educational and vocational programs at its correctional facilities, primarily through partnership with local colleges, but advocates say there is a need for more — and additional funding. 

One consistent concern raised in Tuesday’s meeting is the minimal educational services for incarcerated individuals serving life sentences. One task force member, Kiana Calloway, spoke of his first-hand experience with that disparity. 

At 16, Calloway began serving two life sentences after a non-unanimous jury convicted him on two counts of first-degree murder, one count of armed robbery and a count of feticide in 1997. He received a new trial once it came to light the original judge didn’t allow Calloway to call certain witnesses or require the prosecution to turn over two witness statements. The charges were reduced to manslaughter, and he was given a new sentence of 34 years in prison. 

Calloway, who maintains his innocence, said that it wasn’t until his sentence was lessened that he could access educational programs in prison.  

“How can we rectify those issues when it comes to the way that we educate them on the inside?” Calloway asked. “Who’s offered these educational opportunities on the inside? And why are people being excluded out of the educational processes on the inside?” 

In addition to collecting data on existing programs, committee members agreed to examine what’s missing from the current educational offerings.