Regina Barrow
Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored legislation to help incarcerated women who killed their alleged abusers. (May 16, 2023). Credit: Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

A Louisiana senator has pulled her proposal to help women imprisoned for killing their alleged abusers after it ran into opposition from prosecutors around the state. 

Instead, Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored an official request to the Louisiana Law Institute to study the issue and make recommendations for law changes. She hopes the study will allow her to gain momentum to get a similar bill passed next year.

Domestic violence survivor advocates estimate more than 30 women are incarcerated in Louisiana for killing or hurting a person who subjected them to domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking. Women are also behind bars for crimes they committed while under the coercion of an abuser, they said. 

The country’s understanding of domestic violence has shifted over the past three decades, but women convicted of killing their abuser years ago don’t have many opportunities to have their cases reconsidered. In Louisiana, people convicted of murder serve life sentences without the opportunity of parole, meaning many older cases have never been reexamined.

Advocates had hoped to create an avenue for the prison sentences of abuse survivors to be reevaluated, but Barrow ran up against a political sentiment among legislators to extend prison sentences, not shorten them.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association put a lot of pressure on lawmakers to shelve Barrow’s proposal. They argued Senate Bill 215 was too broad and might lead to the release of serial killers and people on death row.

Advocates for domestic violence survivors countered that the district attorneys’ concerns were “absurd” and meant to frighten people who might lean toward supporting the bill.

Prosecutors also might have faced more work had Barrow’s legislation passed. They likely would have had to put together arguments to fight the release of women who qualified for a second look at their case under Barrow’s proposal.

This article first appeared on Louisiana Illuminator.

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The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to cast light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday...