August 14, 2020
Angola, La – When Derek Harris’ life sentence was reduced to 9 years on August 6th, his release felt imminent. Since his initial arrest in 2009 for selling less than a gram of marijuana, Mr. Harris has spent well over 9 years in Louisiana correctional facilities. However, Mr. Harris remains incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Remarkably, Mr. Harris’ attorney and District Attorney agree that Mr. Harris’ should have walked free after August 6, 2020 but as of today, more than a week later, he is no closer to being released.
The Department of Corrections maintains Mr. Harris must serve another 62 days, which would mean release on October 14, 2020.
Mr. Harris has already spent almost a decade in Louisiana correctional facilities for selling less than a gram of marijuana. Mr. Harris’ attorney Cormac Boyle and Vermilion Parish District Attorney agreed to this term largely because it would result Mr. Harris’ immediate release.
“Derek is over 50 years of age and has to take five different medications to control his high blood pressure. Our family has a history of high blood pressure, and lost our mother because of it. So, we are frantic to get him home as soon as possible where he can receive better care,” said Antoine Harris, Derek Harris’ brother. “Prison is just no place to be if you don’t have to be there and my brother doesn’t deserve to be there another day longer.”
As several studies have shown, prisons are not equipped to protect incarcerated people from the transmission COVID-19. While an additional 2 months in prison offers no benefit to public safety, it also poses a needless risk to public health by confining a particularly at-risk man in an unsafe environment.
“62 days in prison for a marijuana offense—which would not be illegal in some 12 states—would be bad enough, but after 9 years in prison 62 more days is a lifetime, especially now with an uncontrolled virus threatening the health and safety of all inside the closed environment of Angola prison,” said Attorney Boyle.
Unfortunately, Mr. Harris is not the first to suffer longer than is deemed necessary, and unfortunately he will likely not be the last. “Louisiana continues to demonstrate its addiction to incarceration and in the case of Mr. Harris and so many- over-incarceration.” PJI’s Executive Director, Mercedes Montagnes emphasized. “This is one of the many reasons we filed our Class Action Lawsuit challenging Over-Detention this past April, Humphrey v. Lebanc 20-cv-233.” This lawsuit challenges the rampant over detention of men and women throughout the state and is in partnership with the Law Office of William Most and the Chicago based civil rights firm, Loevy and Loevy.
PJI will continue to advocate for Mr. Harris’ immediate release, and will update on our efforts, consider helping Mr. Harris by donating to the GoFundMe which was set up by Mr. Harris’ family: Bringing Derek Harris Home. Despite working in the hospital and taking care of his fellow people who are incarcerated, Derek will leave prison without a job and in need of basic help to get him started on his new life. Whether released tomorrow, or in October, Mr. Harris has a long road ahead, and he will need this and other support.