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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JUL 24 This post on the Red Stick Blog reveals nine facts about Mike the Tiger, the LSU mascot who turns nine this week. That's interesting and all, but the best part of the post is the video of Mike playing around with a visitor, just like any other kitty. A massive, deadly, 400-pound, roaring kitty.
JUL 24 DIG Baton Rouge tells us about a local chef who makes an appearance on one of the Food Network's inexplicably stupid competition shows, Cutthroat Kitchen. The chef, who also appeared on Master Chef, talks here about Cajun and Creole cuisine and its place in American food.
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JUL 24 Here's a story on Huffington Post that explores the connection between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the charter school business that sued him Tuesday over Common Core. The head of that business is recalling all the good stuff Bobby had to say about the curriculum - you know, back when it was cool to like it.
JUL 24 Blogger CB Forgotston has found another problem with the 11th hour bill that tacked $30K onto State Police Commander Mike Edmonson's annual retirement check. The move was missing a financial assessment that's required by statute. This is a red flag that was missed, CB says. You think?
JUL 24 Blogger Mike Deshotels prints a statement from three BESE members who are supporting the legislators who are suing the governor over the Common Core mess. He adds his own personal comment, as well.
JUL 24 The Lens is hosting a panel discussion on the cost of coastal restoration, and who should pay for it, next month in NOLA. It is planned to be a discussion of the realities of the coastal restoration master plan and its current funding, as well as what the future holds.
JUL 23 Blogger Stephen Sabludowsky is attempting to clear away some of the smoke that Bobby Jindal's been blowing about our economy. The press releases and "presidential campaign claims" of Jindal notwithstanding, the outlook is not that rosy, Sabludowsky says. He's got some comment here from the head of GNO Inc. as well.
JUL 23 This post on Mashable says Louisiana is poised to be the next (and better) Hollywood. Sure, blogger Travis Andrews is talking Louisiana in general, but the focus really is on New Orleans. And that's fine, because if NOLA and Hollywood get into a ambiance/food/style/crazy contest, we like NOLA's chances.
JUL 23 Here's New York Magazine's profile of Edwin Edwards, a well-written, thoughtful (and still unvarnished) look at Louisiana's most famous felon. There's a lot of history, but author Mark Jacobson doesn't get bogged down in pedantic rehashes here. It's a really good read.
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