Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita IN THE WORLD. Let me repeat that. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita IN THE WORLD. Our incarceration rate is higher than such God-forsaken places as North Korea, Belarus, Myanmar, and Texas. It's pretty shameful if you think about it. Much of the responsibility for this sobering statistic lies at the feet of the braniacs that reside in the Louisiana legislature.
As many people know, the federal Bureau of Prisons system became overburdened when Congress got “tough on crime” in the 80's and 90's, particularly in drug cases. Fewer people know the ramifications in individual states. In Louisiana, our legislature largely mirrored the actions of Congress in stiffening criminal penalties for various offenses. However, where other states have relaxed the provisions of their respective “tough on crime” eras, Louisiana zagged where her sister states were zagging. We doubled down on making criminal penalties harsher – hence our dubious distinction of having the world's highest incarceration rate.
The zeitgeist amongst legislators of all stripes in the Bayou State seems to favor reducing our prison population. Your more conservative lawmakers are concerned about the costs of mass incarceration. While I would hope that their motivations emanated more from compassionate and humanitarian thinking, I can't argue with the result. After all, the state's bill to house its entire prison population can run up to $700 million a year. And to be fair, I am sure that many conservative lawmakers are also genuinely concerned about the effect of mass incarceration upon their local communities rather than solely looking for a way to save a few bucks. Of course, your more liberal lawmakers are more concerned with those compassionate and humanitarian thoughts, and some are probably thinking, “well, it's a good thing to do, and we can save a few bucks. So what's the downside?” I would think that the only parties NOT genuinely interested in reducing Louisiana's prison population are your average local yokel/dumb hick, the Big Private Prison Complex/Louisiana Sheriffs' Association, and the Louisiana District Attorney's Association. The first doesn't know any better, the second stand to lose a ton of money, and the third actually enjoys taking people's liberty away by sending them to prison. I'm sort of kidding about the district attorneys. Then again, I'm sort of serious.
Our esteemed governor John Bel Edwards (well maybe not “esteemed” yet, but he's sure as hell an improvement over his predecessor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal) recently formed the bizarrely named Justice Reinvestment Task Force to come up with some recommendations as to how to reduce the state's prison population. Today, the task force made a list of recommendations to the governor.
In my next entry, I will get into those recommendations and my thoughts on them.