Louisiana is the prison capital of the world, argues Cindy Chang of the Times-Picayune.The state imprisons 1,619 people per 100,000 — more than any nation in the world including the U.S. (730), Russia (525), Iran (333) and China (122).
The impetus for Louisiana’s imprisonment efficiency is the state’s million private-prison industry, which houses the majority of the state’s inmates and depends on a steady flow of inmates to maintain profits.
Those profits, in turn, are used to finance the budgets of Louisiana law enforcement in the form of new squad cars, guns and laptops.
Meanwhile, taxpayers spend about $663 million a year to provide food, housing, security and medical care for the state’s 40,000 inmates — including $24 million a year caring for between 300 and 400 infirm inmates — with $182 million of it going to for-profit prisons run by sheriffs or private companies.
The only reason the cost isn’t higher is that Louisiana only spends about $38.50 per day on each inmate – the lowest of any U.S. state.
Chang spoke with a local expert about how things got so bad:
“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.”
Louisiana’s system serves as a microcosm of America’s prison-industrial complex: the state has harsher sentencing than any other state, but has one of the highest rates of both violent and property crimes; the prison population has doubled over the last two decades, but New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides; the state has “a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses” when compared to the national average, but “a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offenses,” according to Chang.
Below is an intro video from the series Louisiana Incarcerated on nola.com:
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