Yvette Louisell is one of our adoptees. She was a 17-year old University of Iowa student when she was sentenced to life without parole. She turned 44 in the Iowa Correctional Institute for Woman (ICIW) last July 5th.
Because of the work of Brian Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, juvenile life without parole sentences (JLWOP) were banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012. This decision affected several of the women in ICIW, including Yvette.
I believe that to say to any child that you’re only fit to die in prison is “cruel.” It’s true that some of these crimes are very disturbing, but it’s also true that the lives that many of these children have lived are also disturbing. They’re in many ways some of the most vulnerable kids in society, and we owe them more than to simply throw them away.
In light of the Supreme Court decision, in February 2014 a district court re-sentenced Louisell to 25 years. She had already served 26 years, which would have made her eligible for immediate release. That ruling was appealed, however, and a stay was granted, meaning she would remain behind bars pending a new hearing.
Skip ahead to June 2015. The district judge set aside the 25-year sentence and instead re-sentenced Louisell to 25 years to life, with immediate eligibility for parole. The judge stated in his order that she has been fully rehabilitated to the extent that is possible within prison, and that further rehabilitation can only be achieved through work release. He recommended she be sent to work release as soon as a bed is open.
Louisell is “believed to be only the second woman in Iowa history to earn a bachelor’s degree while imprisoned, and, very likely, the Iowa prison system’s first and only magna cum laude graduate.” [Dick Haws, The Des Moines Register, June 29, 2015] Most impressively, she did this while believing she would never be released.
Her fate now lies in the hands of the parole board.
Yvette’s attorney is a former Iowa Assistant Attorney General and currently teaches at Drake University. He has done all of this work because he believes in it, and has not taken any compensation for it. If Louisell is approved for work release by the Parole Board, she will be the first in the JLWOP category in ICIW to do so. (One female in Iowa was released to hospice as she had stage 4 cancer, and died shortly afterwards.)
Keep in mind that work release in Iowa is very expensive. Upon release, she will be expected to pay $480 a month rent, a $250 one-time supervision fee, and a $30 one-time linen fee. She will not be allowed to have a job for the first three weeks. Once approved for “daily reporting,” which will take about six months, she will have to find an apartment or residence and pay for that, but will still be obligated to pay $240 a month for rent at work release, even though she will only be going in once a day to report and be tested for substances. She may be allowed to go to Hephzibah House, a private Christian transitional program, which charges $250 a month.
Yvette is the epitome of a model inmate, having taken advantage of every opportunity available to her during her lengthy incarceration. She has been featured in at least two documentaries, The Grey Area, and A Saturday In Prison. She is currently participating in the STAR Therapeutic Community program, or STAR TC, which is a 9-month, full-time, intensive in-patient treatment program. The program participants are busy from at least 7 a.m. until at least 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Before Yvette participated in the STAR TC program, she worked three jobs, which earned her enough to survive. Under the STAR TC program, she is paid about $7.50 a week, which is the lowest pay rate within ICIW. STAR participants are not allowed to have jobs since they are supposed to be focusing on their treatment programming. If inmates have any money at all (even just the $7.50 a week), they are expected to purchase their hygiene products from the State canteen (commissary). They also pay 12% tax on everything — 6% Iowa state tax and 6% DOC surcharge (a.k.a. “Pay for Stay”). STAR participants eat dinner at 3:30 p.m., so those who don’t have outside help with Canteen don’t eat from 3:30 p.m. until they get their breakfast sack at 6 a.m.
The Parole Board will meet for Louisell’s review on August 25th.
Anyone can send the Board a message in support of her release to Hephzibah House. The email address for the Board’s Chairman is:
Watch the blog for updates on the board’s decision.