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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NOV 26 Zach Kopplin, who we came to know and love when he was a Louisiana high school student lobbying for the continued inclusion of science stuff in science class, pens this post in The Atlantic about a "textbook" available for social studies instruction in Texas that discusses how Moses contributed to the Constitution. (Oy! Texas rednecks love Jews. Who knew?)
NOV 26 Finally, mad people on the interwebz is a good thing! World wide webby outrage has caused the village of Moreauville to reverse its plan to confiscate pit bulls and Rottweillers and euthanize them simply because of their breed, WAFB reports here. The plan? They're going to enforce the leash law. Well, that would have been a good place to start.
NOV 26 Jim Brown, like many of us Louisiana voters, seems fed up with out of town know-it-alls trying to tell us what to do. Bill Cassidy can't make it through the day without flying someone in to "tell us political retards" how to vote, he says.
NOV 26 Blogger Tom Aswell is writing about the behavior of the two finalists in the 6th Congressional District race: Edwin Edwards and Garret Graves. Edwards has come out swinging, but Graves' campaign seems bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Tom says.
NOV 26 Unless you're in Virigina, you shouldn't count on seeing our Governor on Election Day. Mark Ballard writes in the Advocate's political blog that Bobby will be appearing at a GOP love fest of some kind there, instead of spending the day here.
NOV 26 This post on The Lens takes a look at the ongoing dispute in New Orleans over the banners about the upcoming tax election for the school system. The banners are hanging on schools, and some feel they are promotional, which is not allowed, instead of educational - which is allowed.
NOV 26 Not all college students are focused on football games and parties at this time of year. This post on DIG Baton Rouge recounts an LSU student group that tries to make sure that those who are hungry and homeless are not forgotten by those of us who aren't.
NOV 25 Edwin Edwards took off the gloves on Monday, this post on WAFB tells us. At a Press Club appearance, he wondered how his 6th Congressional District opponent, Garret Graves, could be an expert in all the areas in which he claims to be - when he has no college degree in anything. (Five years - FIVE YEARS - in college, but no degree. Huh?)
NOV 25 Blogger Mike Deshotels offers this primer on predatory charter schools and how they operate, specifically in Louisiana. They're not just profiting from our tax dollars, they're using children and shortchanging them to do so, Deshotels says.
NOV 25 Here's a link to the petition that has been created to save Zeus, a family dog who is targeted for death by the learned fathers of the Avoyelles Parish village of Moreauville. They passed an ordinance based on nothing that outlaws pit bulls and Rotweillers. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 230,000 signatures - a number that's a wee bit higher than the village population of 929.
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