Only in Louisiana will you find prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes wasting away in jail cells for upwards of 10 years with almost nonexistent rehabilitation services, while murderers, rapists and other prison lifers receive job skills training and even the chance for an undergraduate degree.
More than half of the state’s prison population is housed in local prisons, as state-run prisons are reserved for “the worst of the worst,” according to The Times-Picayune’s must-read Sunday and Monday coverage on the state of Louisiana’s prison system. Whether those local prisons are owned by local law enforcement agencies or north Louisiana businessmen who have private prisons to thank for their vast wealth, 11,000 of the 15,000 prisoners unleashed from local prisons in Louisiana every year have had no form of educational or transitional training. Roughly 50 percent of them will be back within five years.
It’s a “cruel irony,” the Times-Pic reports, symbolic of a prison system that “specializes in incarceration on the cheap” and offers financial incentives to private companies and rural sheriffs who manage to keep their prison beds full.
Louisiana has long housed more inmates per capita than any other state in a country that ranks No. 1 in the world for incarceration. And though high poverty, poor public education and other key quality of life factors contribute to the state’s world prison capital title, the T-P’s Cindy Chang takes a hard look at the most significant piece of Louisiana’s prison puzzle — the bottom line:
The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.
Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.
If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.
“You have people who are so invested in maintaining the present system -- not just the sheriffs, but judges, prosecutors, other people who have links to it,” said Burk Foster, a former professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and an expert on Louisiana prisons. “They don’t want to see the prison system get smaller or the number of people in custody reduced, even though the crime rate is down, because the good old boys are all linked together in the punishment network, which is good for them financially and politically.”
The more empty beds, the more an operation sinks into the red. With maximum occupancy and a thrifty touch with expenses, a sheriff can divert the profits to his law enforcement arm, outfitting his deputies with new squad cars, guns and laptops. Inmates spend months or years in 80-man dormitories with nothing to do and few educational opportunities before being released into society with $10 and a bus ticket.
To post a comment, please log into your IND account. If you do not have an account, click the "register" button to create one. Facebook comments can be used as an alternative to creating an account at theIND.com.
OCT 22 This entertaining short (15 minutes) film on Munchies is all about Boudin. Thank goodness it's just a documentary-style piece filled with the voices and faces of south Louisiana, as opposed to outsiders waxing poetic about our regional specialties. But be warned, there is some pretty graphic pig butchery going on here, so if you're squeamish it may not be for you.
OCT 22 A state judge threw out the lawsuit of a former employee of the LSU Alumni Association, the Advocate reports here. The employee had claimed the former director of the group gave her a job so she'd have sex with him, and after she left agreed to continue to pay her -- so she'd have sex with him. Apparently you get no points for hutzpah.
OCT 22 Education blogger Mike Deshotels writes about the retraction of the Cowen report in this post. However you slice it, the Recovery School District is still failing, he says. (But Mike, doesn't that depend on what the intention was? If no one ever meant the RSD to fix public education, it's working perfectly, isn't it?)
OCT 22 A major Jindal donor was allowed to avoid the competitive bid process in the purchase of a state office building in Monroe, blogger Tom Aswell reports in this post on Louisiana Voice. The circumstances he lays out here are pretty stinky.
OCT 22 While Govs. Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry attempt to fan the flames of Fox Newsian hysteria into viable presidential hopes with talk of building walls to keep out the Ebola, LA Times columnist Mike Hiltzik gives them some national press they probably don't want: if you want to save lives, he says, try accepting Medicaid expansion. Wups!
OCT 22 It's hard to pick out the most interesting part of this post on Mother Jones about Texas lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick (His claim that migrant workers will bring leprosy to Texas? That Connie Chung's show should be called "Slanted Eye to Eye"?) But of course we must go with the comments about our very own Duck people, and how they are the spokesmen for God.
OCT 22 Advocate owner (and rich guy) John Georges must be doing a little happy dance today. As his paper reports here, the Times Picayune is further reducing its footprint in NOLA, by laying off 100 people and moving their printing operations to Mobile. (Yes, Alabama.) Does this mean the Advocate won?
OCT 22 Baton Rouge's downtown is now starting to show significant growth, this post on DIG Baton Rouge reports. With new construction, new restaurants and new housing units popping up, the downtown area is finally starting to look like a capital city, the story says.
OCT 21 Two St. John Parish employees were indicted in connection with the amoeba found in the parish water supply, WVUE reports in this post. They are accused of lying about testing the water for proper chlorine levels, the story says, claims that were contradicted by their government vehicles' GPS records.
OCT 21 The McClatchy DC blog posts this fascinating view of Louisiana's political landscape. It's a little heavy on the cliches, and also a little heavy on the quaint Cajun/Creole shtick, but it's still good reading -- if only for the outside view of our insides.
OCT 21 Here's an interesting story from the National Journal about New Orleans almost 10 years post-Katrina. There are demographic information and charts, as well as some commentary about the corresponding changes in the way the city looks and works.
Read the Flipping Paper!
Click Here for the Entire Print Version of IND Monthly