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La. retains nation’s and world’s highest incarceration rate

6th April 2015   ·   0 Comments

For the first time since 2012, Louisiana’s prison population is starting to decline, The Associated Press reported last week.

Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told state lawmakers Tuesday that Louisiana has seen a drop of about 3,000 state inmates since 2012. He credited a stronger focus on re-entry programs for inmates leaving prison and changes to sentencing laws.

The secretary said from 2006 to 2009, the state added an average of 1,200 new prisoners a year. LeBlanc told the House Appropriations Committee that if Louisiana had continued that pace, prison costs would have been $90 million higher next year, when the state is projected to have about 38,000 inmates.

He said the drop was not about fewer people entering prison, but about fewer people returning after they leave.

Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate and is also the world’s “prison capital.”

“Louisiana continues to criminalize people of color and the poor while the rest of the world seeks better ways of combating crime and vio­lence,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The local educational system works hand in hand with the business community and criminal justice system to undereducate, under employ, control, exploit and incarcerate Black. brown and poor people in New Orleans and throughout the state.

“That’s not something the powers that be are going to allow anybody to mess with or change because oppression in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans, is highly profitable,” Brown added.

“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,” Burk Foster, a former professor at the Univ­ersity of Louisiana-Lafayette and an expert on Louisiana prisons, told “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.”

“A large part of the credit for the decline over the past few years has to go to groups like The Innocence Project and Citizens for Second Chances for the work they are doing to secure justice for inmates who have been wrongfully convicted by overzealous prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that are more interested in getting convictions than making sure justice is done,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “New Orleans has seen more than a few cases of cops and prosecutors breaking the rules to get a conviction, like the cases of Shareef Cousin, Curtis Kyles and John Thompson.

“Something needs to be done in the U.S. Department of Justice to make district attorneys and prosecutors pay when they get caught violating defendants’ constitutional rights,” Aha added.

Aha said he thought it was “a travesty of justice” to see the U.S. Supreme Court throw out Thompson’s $14 million settlement against the City of New Orleans after he was railroaded by the NOPD and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office and sent to Death Row.

He added that the United Nations and U.S. Department of Justice should launch a wide-scale probe of the local criminal justice system to determine how many other New Orleans residents were framed for murder and other crimes and deprived of a fair trial.

“With the history, politics and culture of this city being what they are, there is no way these are isolated incidents,” Aha told The Louisiana Weekly. “This is a way of life that has not changed since the days of the auction block and Jim Crow.”

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, said in her book that the continuing growth and draconian practices of the nation’s criminal justice system are of critical importance to communities of color.

“Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race,” Alex­ander wrote.

This article originally published in the April 6, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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