Born into the highest rates of poverty, infant mortality, child death, teen births, no health insurance, juvenile incarceration,&  imprisonment,  Louisiana children stand a greater chance of misery & early death than any other state in America  (Geography Matters – Child Well Being In The States; Louisiana ranks 48th to 50th in almost all quality of life indices for children). 

Kids are better off in many 3rd world nations.

Last week’s Plantations, Prisons, & Profits article by Charles Blow, identified Louisiana as the prison capital of the world, with 1 in 86 adult residents in the prison system (the vast majority for nonviolent offences).

The good news is that for profit prisons in Louisiana are making a fortune.  By offering almost no rehabilitation, crowded conditions & easy incarceration statutes (10 years for a bad check) means that capitalism has succeeded where slavery failed.

Leasing convicts as plantation labor was outlawed after the civil war.

Today, privatized prisons make more money milking the state for high per diem rates while ensuring low costs (minimal services) & legislators keep the prisons full (recidivism is 66% nationally and 68% in Louisiana) and Louisiana schools remaining at the bottom (of all 50 states) & the more money the state spends on incarceration, the less it can spend on preventive measures like education (According to Education Week’s State Report Cards, Louisiana was one of three states and the District of Columbia to receive an F for K-12 achievement in 2012, and, this year, the state, over all, is facing a $220 million deficit in its $25 billion budget.)

This means nothing can change in Louisiana for a very long time.

If you can read this, and you are a poor child in Louisiana, beg your mother or father to take you to Arizona, Colorado, Utah, or almost any other state.  Your chances of reading at a third grade level, graduating from high school, not going to prison or becoming a preteen mom will be exponentially improved.  Please pass this on.

 

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OP-ED COLUMNIST

Plantations, Prisons and Profits

By CHARLES M. BLOW
Published: May 25, 2012 252 Comments
  • “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 triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.”
Damon Winter/The New York Times

Charles M. Blow

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That paragraph opens a devastating eight-part series published this month by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans about how the state’s largely private prison system profits from high incarceration rates and tough sentencing, and how many with the power to curtail the system actually have a financial incentive to perpetuate it.

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.

It also was a chance to employ local people, especially failed farmers forced into bankruptcy court by a severe drop in the crop prices.

But in order for the local prisons to remain profitable, the beds, which one prison operator in the series distastefully refers to as “honey holes,” must remain full. That means that on almost a daily basis, local prison officials are on the phones bartering for prisoners with overcrowded jails in the big cities.

It also means that criminal sentences must remain stiff, which the sheriff’s association has supported. This has meant that Louisiana has some of the stiffest sentencing guidelines in the country. Writing bad checks in Louisiana can earn you up to 10 years in prison. In California, by comparison, jail time would be no more than a year.

There is another problem with this unsavory system: prisoners who wind up in these local for-profit jails, where many of the inmates are short-timers, get fewer rehabilitative services than those in state institutions, where many of the prisoners are lifers. That is because the per-diem per prisoner in local prisons is half that of state prisons.

In short, the system is completely backward.

Lifers at state prisons can learn to be welders, plumbers or auto mechanics — trades many will never practice as free men — while prisoners housed in local prisons, and are certain to be released, gain no skills and leave jail with nothing more than “$10 and a bus ticket.”

These ex-convicts, with almost no rehabilitation and little prospect for supporting themselves, return to the already-struggling communities that were rendered that way in part because so many men are being extracted on such a massive scale. There the cycle of crime often begins again, with innocent people caught in the middle and impressionable young eyes looking on.

According to The Times-Picayune: “In five years, about half of the state’s ex-convicts end up behind bars again.”

This suits the prison operators just fine. They need them to come back to the “honey holes.”

Furthermore, the more money the state spends on incarceration, the less it can spend on preventive measures like education. (According to Education Week’s State Report Cards, Louisiana was one of three states and the District of Columbia to receive an F for K-12 achievement in 2012, and, this year, the state, over all, is facing a $220 million deficit in its $25 billion budget.)

Louisiana is the starkest, most glaring example of how our prison policies have failed. It showcases how private prisons do not serve the public interest and how the mass incarceration as a form of job creation is an abomination of justice and civility and creates a long-term crisis by trying to create a short-term solution.

As the paper put it: “A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.”

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me atchblow@nytimes.com.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 26, 2012, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline:

4 Comments

  1. Our children do stand a chance.Never say they don’t. We the people need to require that people in prison for more then 4 years get a job skill so they are able to walk out of prison with something to offer society. If they are just incarcerated for punishment they offer nothing to society upon their release. If they are mentally ill, they are not given any assistance and have nothing but problems upon their release. There are lots that can be done to make our state great and not the prision capital where companies make money off of the incarcerated. I know a guy who is doing 8 years for 4 DWIs over the span of 20 years. Sure the guys an alcoholic and should have learned his lesson but his 1st two DWIs were misdemeanors. He shouldn’t be in prison for that. He should have served a few years and been let out. But it’s in the for profit institutions that he needs to be there. We can do much better with our beautiful state. The guy who went to prison had his wife die shortly before his incarceration and his kids were basically left as modern day orphans. They are all living on the edge of poverty with minimum wage jobs and problems all new adults face and they are at an extreme disadvantage given their circumstances. We want to incarcerate so many drug users and dealers that given the right skill set can make more money working honestly and have the ability and desire to turn their lives around. We need to focus on violent and sex offenders not the drug/alcohol users. They can be rehabilitated. Murderers can’t and shouldn’t be trusted in society.

  2. I thought Florida was bad until I read this article. Change is desperately needed nationwide or this will never end. The people (we) need to start complaining and demanding changes in our justice system. Do not live in a state and pay taxes to any state that punishes it’s citizens so harshly…..really, ten years for writing a bad check….probably a mother who needed groceries to feed her family…..shame on our government!!!!

  3. Am impressed by KARAs ideology..here in Africa kids are very vulnerable to very many conditions ranging from poverty, rape, defilement, child lobour, early pregnancies, child soldiers among others. How i wish KARA extended its services to Uganda where i live and to the rest of Africa.

  4. Is it not sad and somewhat disappointing what people can do to other people? If effort is increasingly set on creating misery systems and miserable people and it continues, where are we going to end up as a population of people and what would be the point in that way of life?

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