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Louisiana: The World’s Prison Capital -By Cindy Chang| The Times Picayune

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 five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.

The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.

If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.

Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.

In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.

One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the national average. Among black men from New Orleans, one in 14 is behind bars; one in seven is either in prison, on parole or on probation. Crime rates in Louisiana are relatively high, but that does not begin to explain the state’s No. 1 ranking, year after year, in the percentage of residents it locks up.

In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole. A trio of drug convictions can be enough to land you at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the rest of your life.

Almost every state lets judges decide when to mete out the severest punishment and when a sympathetic defendant should have a chance at freedom down the road. In Louisiana, murderers automatically receive life without parole on the guilty votes of as few as 10 of 12 jurors.

The lobbying muscle of the sheriffs, buttressed by a tough-on-crime electorate, keeps these harsh sentencing schemes firmly in place.

“Something has to be done — it just has to be done — about the long sentences,” said Angola Warden Burl Cain. “Some people you can let out of here that won’t hurt you and can be productive citizens, and we know the ones who can’t.”

Every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on schools, hospitals and highways. Other states are strategically reducing their prison populations — using tactics known in policy circles as “smart on crime.” Compared with the national average, Louisiana has a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offenses and a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offenses — perhaps a signal that some nonviolent criminals could be dealt with differently.

Inmates return to their dormitory from the cafeteria at Richland Parish Detention Center in September. Prison overcrowding has become a thing of the past, even as the inmate population multiplies rapidly. (Photo: Scott Threlkeld / The Times-Picayune).

Excerpt, read: Louisiana Is The World’s Prison Capital -By Cindy Chang| The Times Picayune

Related Sources: Louisiana Incarcerated: How We Built The World’s Prison Capital -By Cindy Chang| The Times Picayune (Multi-Part Exposé)

How Louisiana Became The World’s ‘Prison Capital’ | NPR

How We Became No. 1| The Times Picayune (Graphic Illustration)

Plantations, Prisons and Profit -By Charles M. Blow| NYT (Op-Ed)

Death Penalty, Luxury Prisons, & False Convictions| The Young Turks (Video)

Louisiana Incarcerated: State Is No. 1 in Prisoners | The Times Picayune (Photo Gallery)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness | Michelle Alexander (Book, 2010)

 

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Incarcerated Childhood: US Kids Prosecuted as Adults | RT News

America’s prisons are overflowing, but many who are kept behind bars, are just children. Thousands of youths are tried as adults in the U.S. every year – and some are given life sentences in the country’s harshest jails. Many then find themselves becoming victims of sexual violence, and suicide.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Current events, Law, News, Poverty, Race, Rape

 

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Jailing Undocumented Immigrants is a Lucrative Business –By Gabriel Lerner | HuffPost

LOS ANGELES — At dawn on July 19, nearly 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents burst into the home home of Carmen Bonilla, 44. The agents were searching for “Robert” an alleged drug dealer, but ended up terrifying Bonilla and her son Michael, 16, daughter Josefina, 23, daughter-in-law Leticia, 28, and two of her granddaughters.

According to Jessica Dominguez, the family’s lawyer, and Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the family was subjected to “different levels of physical and verbal abuse,” including screaming, “kicking, beating and aggression.” Their treatment was documented last week by HuffPost LatinoVoices’ Jorge Luis Macías.

What happened to the Bonillas has happened to thousands of immigrant families. Immigration authorities — both local police and federal ICE agents — have embarked on a program to seek out “criminal illegal aliens” and, whether they find them or not, have often rounded up entire families for deportation.

Even though the Bonilla family members do not have criminal records, they face removal proceedings before an immigration judge. The family was able to find legal representation and general public support, enabling their release from ICE custody, but undocumented immigrants who are less lucky are routinely sent to prisons and detention centers where ICE will process their paperwork and decide whether they may be released.

“If they have a criminal record, particularly a drug or security-related conviction, or a felony or violent crime, or crime of moral turpitude, they will likely have to remain in custody until their trial before the [immigration judge],” explained Aggie R. Hoffman, an immigration attorney.

The Department of Homeland Security pays between $50 to $200 per day per person to local, county and state prisons to house apprehended aliens. A few years ago, a series I wrote for La Opinión showed how prisons in general, and California’s prisons in particular, benefit from the largesse of the federal government and vie for a piece of this lucrative business. At that time, I visited a detention center in Lancaster, Calif., run by the Sheriff of Los Angeles, where immigrants rounded up in raids were housed until their deportation or legal proceedings. The process is supposed to take just a few days, but some of the detainees rushed to tell me that they had been kept there for more than two years.

“This happens frequently because the courts are so backlogged; not enough judges to hear the cases of those being held”, explained Hoffman.

But the incarceration trend is not limited to public prisons. Thanks to a concerted lobbying push from the corrections industry, growing numbers of undocumented immigrants could end up in private detention facilities.

Over the past three years, immigration politics has seen more restrictive legislation at the state level and the unprecedented enforcement of current laws by the Obama administration. Together, the laws and the stepped up enforcement have the potential to bring tens of thousands of individuals into for-profit jails.

The recent animated video “Immigrants for Sale” by the activist group Cuéntame illustrates some facts behind the connection between the ongoing crackdown on illegal immigration and the for-profit corrections industry.

The video follows the trail of money and political power behind this piece of the national immigration debate. Its creators say it’s an attempt to uncover what lies behind the positions and ideologies in a discussion in which statements and accusations made at maximum volume have long replaced the open exchange of ideas and opinions.

Excerpt, read: Jailing Undocumented Immigrants Is Big Business –By Gabriel Lerner| HuffPost

 

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