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.
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OCT 20 The Globe and Mail, a Canadian paper, has posted its story on Louisiana's coastal loss here. In it, author Omar El Akkad clarifies it neatly: it's "a battle between prosperity and the planet's well-being." Are jobs and money worth the trade we're making? As Jonathan Foret says in the story, Mother Nature may come and answer that question for us.
OCT 20 Remember those great posts from blogger Jason Brad Berry that featured emails and letters related to the BP claims process? Well, apparently Patrick Juneau (who was featured, but not in a positive way, in those documents) ordered a background check on Berry because of it, this story in Louisiana Record says. Huh?
OCT 20 The Washington Post and ABC ran a poll on several issues here, but of course the presidential fields are most interesting. Hillary Clinton has commanding numbers on the D side, and Mitt Romney is leading the R side, with 21 percent. He's followed by Jeb Bush, with 11 percent, and 12 other guys polling in single digits. Bobby Jindal brings up the rear with 2 percent, with only John Kasich and Scott Walker polling worse.
OCT 20 Blogger Tom Aswell quotes two former Commissioners of Administration in this post, both of whom are not impressed with the magical surplus that current COA Kristy Nichols and her boss, Bobby Jindal, have found. There's some pretty interesting detail here about the origin of these magic beans.
OCT 20 Blogger Robert Mann paints a pretty amusing (or alarming, depending on your point of view) picture of how DOA Kristy Nichols and Gov. Bobby Jindal came up with the "balanced" budget they revealed last week. An unbalanced budget would blow a hole in Jindal's "already dim presidential hopes," Mann says.
OCT 18 Columnist James Gill tells a sordid tale of a Port Allen judge facing sanctions -- shortly after he was re-elected without opposition. District Judge J. Robin Free accepted a free ride on the private jet of an attorney who had just one a big case in his court, and also failed to recuse himself from a class-action case in which his mom was a potential plaintiff, Gill says.
OCT 20 The blogger known as Crazy Crawfish is writing about Superintendent John White in this post, taking issue with White's claim that it is only pockets of isolated "troublemakers" who are opposed to Common Core in Louisiana. Gosh, Johnny, that's the best you can come up with? That's not even original.
OCT 17 Here's a weird one on WVUE from investigative reporter Lee Zurik. In it, he's quoting a guy who was in a car accident and filed suit against the other guy who (he says) caused it and is responsible for a lot of medical bills. What's weird is what he was told by his lawyer (whom he recorded -- Huh?)
OCT 17 Here's another document from the BP claims library that was delivered anonymously to blogger Jason Brad Berry. It is written on what appears to be BP stationery and is directed to Patrick Juneau. In it, the BP guy complains about a $14 million bill for an audit BP has never seen, as well as a conflict between Juneau's "public boasts of transparency" and the manner in which he has really operated.
OCT 17 Bobby Jindal's poll numbers still stink in Iowa, this post on the Bloomberg Politics blog says. A recent poll found him tied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 1 percent, trailing Cruz, Perry, Christie, Rubio, Bush, Walker and a partridge in a pear tree.
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