Louisiana: World’s Prison Capital?!! Part I
The Times-Picayune World Incarceration chart lists the Russian Federation, USA, Iran, China, and Mexico, among numerous other countries. We tower above all these countries with 1,610 incarcerated Louisianians per 100,000 residents. The Russian Federation’s 519 is the second highest of the above group, and China at 121 is the lowest of the group. The USA is the second highest after Louisiana at 730, less than half our shameful number. This a sign of our statewide weakness, locking up more and more Louisianians, chasing the almighty buck. The business of supporting numerous rural parishes with outsize jails run by an out of town company is today’s reality across Louisiana.
How did this crazy lock up culture take over our beloved state? Let’s take a look at the money trail, where the nefarious truth lurks. Louisiana’s incarceration rate doubled during the last 2 decades. Turns out a majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit jails, which depend on high numbers of prisoners to turn a big profit.
Politicians around the state, along with local sheriffs, have huge financial incentives to maintain a very high census in their local jails. We call this a giant 2nd agenda, where the sheriffs and politicians collude together to maintain a very high census in the local jail. This occurs all over the rural areas of Louisiana in a large number of parishes. In return, the sheriffs’ department and the politicians receive supplemental payments from the for-profit jails run by regional or national jail companies, which enhances their meager local budgets. We are talking about $100,000-200,00, which for a small rural town is a lot of money.
So the most rotten component in the whole bad scheme is the pay to play motive. The fuller the jail, the happier the community and all other financial players stay. The fact that this occurs all over the state is the real crying shame.
The problem is even deeper than just the horrifying pay to play motive. One of the real secrets to fixing this huge problem seems simple- keep at danger young people out of the system when they are first caught, with programs like Diversion, which I’ve written about extensively. Diviersion is tragically underfunded, as is the Indigent Defender Office, Probation & Parole, and the Domestic Violence Office.
In Louisiana, even baby steps are met with resistance. Jindal, who rose to the governor’s office with the backing of the sheriffs’ lobby, says too many people are behind bars. Yet earlier this year, he watered down a reform package hammered out by the Sentencing Commission he himself had convened. The commission includes sheriffs and district attorneys, so its proposals were modest to begin with.
Another area of major concern is New Orleans Judge reform, since really outrageous abuses
occur in Traffic Court, for example. I’ve written about this extensively, and it’s still occurring. More on this later.