Nowhere on earth does any government exceed Louisiana’s ratio of inmates to citizens: one in 86.
This is triple what it is in Iran. It is seven times China’s ratio. It is ten times Germany’s.
Things aren’t busting out all over in Louisiana.
Overcrowding has been solved. The prisons are only 90% occupied. There’s space available in Louisiana.
Criminals could be required to pay restitution to their victims rather than go to jail. But these days, most of the state’s prisons are run on a for-profit basis. Call them “charter prisons.” If criminals paid restitution rather than get supported by taxpayers, that would harm a $182 million-a-year business.
Who runs these prisons? Sheriffs. They get about $25/day for each prisoner.
Should we be surprised that the prison population has doubled over the last 20 years? It’s a boom industry.
The statistics are interesting. One in 14 of black men from New Orleans are in jail. Those are bad odds.
In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole. The taxpayers are on the hook.
The victims who lost their cars get nothing.
Is that good business for sheriffs, or what?
The Bible requires double restitution for theft (Exodus 22: 1, 4). But that’s old fashioned. Criminal, even.
The state has a higher percentage of prisoners for drug busts than it does for violent crime.
Conclusion: it’s safer to arrest druggers than armed guys with an attitude.
The governor says it’s not a good system. But he’s not in charge.
“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.”
If you build them, they will come.
In the early 1990s, when the incarceration rate was half what it is now, Louisiana was at a crossroads. Under a federal court order to reduce overcrowding, the state had two choices: Lock up fewer people or build more prisons.
It achieved the latter, not with new state prisons — there was no money for that — but by encouraging sheriffs to foot the construction bills in return for future profits. The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over rural Louisiana.
They will also stay.
“If the sheriffs hadn’t built those extra spaces, we’d either have to go to the Legislature and say, ‘Give us more money,’ or we’d have to reduce the sentences, make it easier to get parole and commutation — and get rid of people who shouldn’t be here,” said Richard Crane, former general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Corrections.
Here is the famous bottom line.
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.
This only scratches the surface. To read more, click the link.