Louisiana's Incarceration Rate Highest in US

The business of running prisons in Louisiana -- where the rate of incarceration is nearly triple that of Iran -- bears examination, argues New York Times culumnist Charles M. Blow.

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Louisiana is in the prison business, argues New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. Detailing statistics published in a New Orleans Times-Picayune series, Blow lays out how many Americans fall victim to this jailhouse paradigm.

The picture that emerges is one of convicts as chattel and a legal system essentially based on human commodification.

First, some facts from the series:

• One in 86 Louisiana adults is in the prison system, which is nearly double the national average.

• More than 50 percent of Louisiana’s inmates are in local prisons, which is more than any other state. The next highest state is Kentucky at 33 percent. The national average is 5 percent.

• Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of its prisoners serving life without parole.

• Louisiana spends less on local inmates than any other state.

• Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are nonviolent offenders. The national average is less than half.

In the early 1990s, the state was under a federal court order to reduce overcrowding, but instead of releasing prisoners or loosening sentencing guidelines, the state incentivized the building of private prisons. But, in what the newspaper called “a uniquely Louisiana twist,” most of the prison entrepreneurs were actually rural sheriffs. They saw a way to make a profit and did.

Read Charles M. Blow's entire piece at the New York Times.

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