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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AUG 28 As the controversy surrounding the Office of Group Benefits intensifies, blogger Tom Aswell gives us some background on the current problems. The OGB, which handles health insurance for current and retired state employees, is deep in the red since it was privatized by Jindal, and Aswell gives us the skinny: this great plan was designed by ALEC. The company handling it? Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana - a longtime member of ALEC.
AUG 28 This post on the Morning Joe program's blog runs down Bobby Jindal's recent work to "raise his profile nationally." (Yeah? No kidding.) The best part of the story about the governor who coyly declines to say he's running for president? His long-time consultant who poo-poos the memory of his cringe-worthy response to the 2009 State of the Union by saying you can tell he's doing a good job on the current campaign trail. What campaign trail?
AUG 28 Blogger CB Forgotston has a concept for a new reality show: the wives of the "Dork Dynasty." That's the name that some troopers have given to State Police Commander Mike Edmonson and his inner circle. The ladies CB has picked for his cast are not just housewives, however, and the connections here are pretty interesting.
AUG 28 Blogger Ian McGibboney is writing about the strife in Ferguson in this post, and articulating what many people down south are saying. There's a fairy tale about how there's tons of racism in the South, but it's all hunky dory up North. (Really? Look again.)
AUG 28 Scott Rogers, a television host who had a self-produced weekend morning show on WAFB, died in a shooting at his house, this story on the Baton Rouge television station tells us. He died in his St. Gabriel home, apparently at the hand of his son-in-law, who then turned the gun on himself, the story reports.
AUG 28 If you're one of those LSU football fans who think there is no greater sin than to fail as the school's football coach, this bad luck might make you happy. The son of former LSU Coach Gerry DiNardo was booked on drug and weapon charges, this post on the Picayune tells us.
AUG 28 If you lose in state court to your own constituents, the thing to do is sue the President. Right? Bayou Buzz takes a look at Bobby Jindal's legal "strategy," which basically seems aimed at getting his name in the papers. Hey -- looks like it's working!
AUG 28 Columnist Jeremy Alford takes a look at how the GOP and the Dems are approaching the Senate race in Louisiana. One study predicts a ho-hum outcome from this fall's elections, but in Louisiana the race is a focus for both parties, he says.
AUG 27 Columnist Stephanie Grace is writing about those bosom buddies (not), Bobby Jindal and David Vitter, in this post. On the one hand, the two politicians have so much in common, it's hard to tell them apart, she says. But Vitter has taken pains to distance himself from the governor, she says.
AUG 27 State retirees who get their health coverage through the state can look forward to paying more for premiums, drugs and out of pocket costs, blogger Tom Aswell tells us in this post. The problem is that Bobby Jindal's plan to privatize the system has resulted in a monthly $16 million deficit, Aswell says, so Bobby's trying to price retirees out of the system.
AUG 27 Blogger CB Forgotston is bumping up against shrill in this post, when he's talking about the taxpayer-funded house where State Police Commander Mike Edmonson lives on your dime. For instance, CB's complaining about the "servants," but the story he links to here reports that a convict cleans the house. CB also calls it a "mansion" but it sure looks more like a standard brick suburban house.
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