Why is Louisiana the Prison Capital of the World?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One out of every 86 adult Louisianans is currently behind bars. That's nearly double the national rate. It's also triple that of Iran, seven times that of China, and ten times that of Germany. These statistics have earned Louisiana the designation of being the prison capital of the world.

And according to The Times-Picayune, Louisiana's staggering incarceration rate can be traced back to the need for "cold, hard cash."

Most inmates are housed in local, for-profit facilities, according to the paper. These facilities account for a $182 million industry that needs prisoners to stay a flout. Rural sheriffs also have an interest in filling prison beds because "a good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations."

As such, the prison lobby and sheriffs oppose reforms that could lessen the number of people behind bars. Judges, in particular, are left with little sentencing discretion, according to the Times. They have no choice but to order harsh punishments, which include automatic life without parole for murder and 24 years without parole for a two-time burglar.

Experts, including Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, don't believe being the prison capital of the world is doing the state any good. Louisiana still has high violent crime rates. Not only that, private prisons offer few opportunities for betterment.

State prisons, where serious offenders go, provide opportunities for inmates to learn trades and get a college degree. Local, private prisons, which tend to house people with short sentences, can only offer GED classes, reports the paper.

Outside the prison lobby, most agree that Louisiana needs to stop being the prison capital of the world. But as of now, The Times-Picayune indicates that few have the political will necessary to force changes.

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