Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!!

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Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!! Empty Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!!

Post by NotRepublicanOrDemocrat on Thu Aug 16, 2012 1:41 am

Do not even drive through this third world prison state!

Louisiana is the world's prison capital. The state imprisons more of
its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among
Americans means first in the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is
nearly five times Iran's, 13 times China's and 20 times Germany's.

Inmates return to their dormitory from the cafeteria at Richland Parish
Detention Center in September. Prison overcrowding has become a thing of
the past, even as the inmate population multiplies rapidly.

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.

Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs
to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate
is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like
horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison
system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has
come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.

In the past two decades, Louisiana's prison population has doubled,
costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the
nation in homicides.

One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the
national average. Among black men from New Orleans, one in 14 is behind
bars; one in seven is either in prison, on parole or on probation. Crime
rates in Louisiana are relatively high, but that does not begin to
explain the state's No. 1 ranking, year after year, in the percentage of
residents it locks up.

In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole.
A trio of drug convictions can be enough to land you at the Louisiana
State Penitentiary at Angola for the rest of your life.

Almost every state lets judges decide when to mete out the severest
punishment and when a sympathetic defendant should have a chance at
freedom down the road. In Louisiana, murderers automatically receive
life without parole on the guilty votes of as few as 10 of 12 jurors.

The lobbying muscle of the sheriffs, buttressed by a tough-on-crime
electorate, keeps these harsh sentencing schemes firmly in place.

"Something has to be done -- it just has to be done -- about the long
sentences," said Angola Warden Burl Cain. "Some people you can let out
of here that won't hurt you and can be productive citizens, and we know
the ones who can't."

Every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on schools,
hospitals and highways. Other states are strategically reducing their
prison populations -- using tactics known in policy circles as "smart on
crime." Compared with the national average, Louisiana has a much lower
percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses and a much higher
percentage behind bars for drug offenses -- perhaps a signal that some
nonviolent criminals could be dealt with differently.

Louisiana has more citizens in prison than anywhere else in the world.

Do all of Louisiana's 40,000 inmates need to be incarcerated for the
interests of punishment and public safety to be served? Gov. Bobby
Jindal, a conservative Republican with presidential ambitions, says the
answer is no. Despite locking up more people for longer periods than any
other state, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of both violent and
property crimes. Yet the state shows no signs of weaning itself off its
prison dependence.

"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."

Keeping the beds full

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.

The national prison population was expanding at a rapid clip.
Louisiana's grew even faster. There was no need to rein in the growth by
keeping sentencing laws in line with those of other states or by
putting minor offenders in alternative programs. The new sheriffs' beds
were ready and waiting. Overcrowding became a thing of the past, even as
the inmate population multiplied rapidly.

"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.

Today, wardens make daily rounds of calls to other sheriffs' prisons in
search of convicts to fill their beds. Urban areas such as New Orleans
and Baton Rouge have an excess of sentenced criminals, while prisons in
remote parishes must import inmates to survive.
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.

Fred Schoonover, deputy warden of the 522-bed Tensas Parish Detention
Center in northeast Louisiana, says he does not view inmates as a
"commodity." But he acknowledges that the prison's business model is
built on head counts. Like other wardens in this part of the state, he
wheels and deals to maintain his tally of human beings. His boss, Tensas
Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones, relies on him to keep the numbers up.

"We struggle. I stay on the phone a lot, calling all over the state, trying to hustle a few," Schoonover said.

Some sheriffs, and even a few small towns, lease their prison rights
to private companies. LaSalle Corrections, based in Ruston, plays a role
in housing one of seven Louisiana prisoners. LCS Corrections Services,
another homegrown company, runs three Louisiana prisons and is a major
donor to political campaigns, including those of urban sheriffs who
supply rural prisons with inmates.

Incarceration on the cheap

Ask anyone who has done time in Louisiana whether he or she would
rather be in a state-run prison or a local sheriff-run prison. The
answer is invariably state prison.

Inmates in local prisons are typically serving sentences of 10 years
or less on nonviolent charges such as drug possession, burglary or
writing bad checks. State prisons are reserved for the worst of the

Yet it is the murderers, rapists and other long-termers who learn
trades like welding, auto mechanics, air-conditioning repair and
plumbing. Angola's Bible college offers the only chance for Louisiana
inmates to earn an undergraduate degree.

Such opportunities are not available to the 53 percent serving their
time in local prisons. In a cruel irony, those who could benefit most
are unable to better themselves, while men who will die in prison
proudly show off fistfuls of educational certificates.

Louisiana specializes in incarceration on the cheap, allocating by
far the least money per inmate of any state. The $24.39 per diem is
several times lower than what Angola and other state-run prisons spend
-- even before the sheriff takes his share. All local wardens can offer
is GED classes and perhaps an inmate-led support group such as
Alcoholics Anonymous. Their facilities are cramped and airless compared
with the spacious grounds of state prisons, where inmates walk along
outdoor breezeways and stay busy with jobs or classes.

With a criminal record, finding work is tough. In five years, about half of the state's ex-convicts end up behind bars again.

Gregory Barber has seen the contrast between state and local prisons
firsthand. He began a four-year sentence for burglary at the state-run
Phelps Correctional Center -- a stroke of luck for someone with a
relatively short sentence on a nonviolent charge who might easily have
ended up in a sheriff's custody.

Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!! 11006501-largeWith only six months to go, the New Orleans native was transferred to
Richwood Correctional Center, a LaSalle-run prison near Monroe. He had
hoped to end his time in a work-release program to up his chances of
getting a good job. But the 11th-hour transfer rendered him ineligible.
At Phelps, he took a welding class. Now, he whiles away the hours lying
in his bunk for lack of anything better to do. The only relief from the
monotony is an occasional substance-abuse rehab meeting.

"In DOC camps, you'd go to the yard every day, go to work," said
Barber, 50, of state-run prisons. "Here, you just lay down, or go to
meetings. It makes time pass a little slower."

Downward spiral

Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!! 11006499-small

While Louisiana tops the prison rankings, it consistently vies with
Mississippi -- the state with the second-highest incarceration rate --
for the worst schools, the most poverty, the highest infant mortality.
One in three Louisiana prisoners reads below a fifth-grade level. The
vast majority did not complete high school. The easy fix of selling
drugs or stealing is all too tempting when the alternative is a
low-wage, dead-end job.

More money spent on locking up an ever-growing number of prisoners
means less money for the very institutions that could help young people
stay out of trouble, giving rise to a vicious cycle. Louisiana spends
about $663 million a year to feed, house, secure and provide medical
care to 40,000 inmates. Nearly a third of that money -- $182 million --
goes to for-profit prisons, whether run by sheriffs or private

"Clearly, the more that Louisiana invests in large-scale
incarceration, the less money is available for everything from
preschools to community policing that could help to reduce the prison
population," said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing
Project, a national criminal justice reform group. "You almost
institutionalize the high rate of incarceration, and it's even harder to
get out of that situation."

Louisiana's prison epidemic disproportionately affects neighborhoods
already devastated by crime and poverty. In some parts of New Orleans, a
stint behind bars is a rite of passage for young men.

About 5,000 black men from New Orleans are doing state prison time,
compared with 400 white men from the city. Because police concentrate
resources on high-crime areas, minor lawbreakers there are more likely
to be stopped and frisked or caught up in a drug sweep than, say, an
Uptown college student with a sideline marijuana business.

With so many people lost to either prison or violence, fraying
neighborhoods enter a downward spiral. As the incarceration rate climbs,
more children grow up with fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles
in prison, putting them at increased risk of repeating the cycle

'Don't feel no pity'

Angola is home to scores of old men who cannot get out of bed, let
alone commit a crime. Someone who made a terrible mistake in his youth
and has transformed himself after decades in prison has little to no
chance at freedom.

Louisiana - The WORLD'S Prison Capital!! 11006502-smallWorld and state incarceration rates (full full size graphic)

Louisiana has a higher percentage of inmates serving life without
parole than any other state. Its justice system is unstintingly tough on
petty offenders as well as violent criminals. In more than four years
in office, Jindal has only pardoned one inmate.

"Louisiana don't feel no pity. I feel like everybody deserves a
second chance," said Preston Russell, a Lower 9th Ward native who
received life without parole for a string of burglaries and a crack
charge. "I feel like dudes get all this education ... under their belt
and been here 20, 30 years. You don't think that's enough time to let a
man back out and give him another chance at life?"

An inmate at Angola costs the state an average of $23,000 a year. A
young lifer will rack up more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded
expenses if he reaches the Louisiana male life expectancy of 72.

Russell, 49, is in good health. But as he gets older, treating his
age-related ailments will be expensive. The state spends about $24
million a year caring for between 300 and 400 infirm inmates.

Now in his 13th year at Angola, Russell breaks into tears recounting
how he rebelled against the grandmother who raised him, leaving home as
soon as he could. First he smoked weed, weed became crack, then he was
selling drugs and burglarizing stores in between jobs in construction or

The last time he stole, Orleans Parish prosecutors tagged him as a
multiple offender and sought the maximum -- the same sentence given to
murderers. In the final crime that put him away for life, he broke into
Fat Harry's and stole $4,000 from the Uptown bar's video poker machines.

Political will

Tough fiscal times have spurred many states to reduce their prison
populations. In lock-'em-up Texas, new legislation is steering low-level
criminals into drug treatment and other alternatives to prison.

In Louisiana, even baby steps are met with resistance. Jindal, who
rose to the governor's office with the backing of the sheriffs' lobby,
says too many people are behind bars. Yet earlier this year, he watered
down a reform package hammered out by the Sentencing Commission he
himself had convened. The commission includes sheriffs and district
attorneys, so its proposals were modest to begin with.

Measures like those in Texas, which target a subset of nonviolent
offenders, are frequently lauded but may not be enough. To make a
significant dent in the prisoner numbers, sentences for violent crimes
must be reduced and more money must be invested in inner-city
communities, according to David Cole, a professor at Georgetown Law
School. Such large-scale change -- which has not been attempted in any
state, let alone Louisiana -- can only happen through political will.

In Louisiana, that will appears to be practically nonexistent.
Locking up as many people as possible for as long as possible has
enriched a few while making everyone else poorer. Public safety comes
second to profits.

"You cannot build your way out of it. Very simply, you cannot build
your way out of crime," said Secretary of Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc, who
supports reducing the incarceration rate and putting more resources
into inmate rehabilitation. "It just doesn't work that way. You can't
afford it. Nobody can afford that."

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