Over-incarceration a new form of slavery

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Louisiana leads the world in incarceration, with more than 40,000 inmates in state prisons as of 2012, which was double the national average and more than any other state. What may have previously been only speculation about the negative reasons behind Louisiana’s disproportionate incarceration rates were confirmed by the comments made by Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator at a news briefing on Oct. 5.

“They are releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change the oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen – to do all that where we save money,” said Prator in response to Louisiana’s new sentencing laws.

He defined the good prisoners as “the ones you can work. That’s the one that you can have pick up trash or work the police programs. But guess what? Those are the ones they are releasing.”

These words chillingly evoke the image of an angry slave owner protesting the freeing of his slaves, except instead of the fall of the plantation to the emancipation proclamation, we are witnessing the fall of the current prison system to these new laws.

In short, prison means profit. The more inmates inside of them, the more money inside the pockets of many, including parish sheriffs. However, newly approved sentencing laws, referred to as the criminal justice overhaul, will reduce the prison population by 10 percent and save $78 million over the next 10 years.

Some parish sheriffs have become dependent on the steady influx of inmates, half of whom are disproportionately state prisoners, and their subsequent labor simply “to keep the doors open,” Prator said.

While the greed and desperation of sheriffs like Prator may not have been the sole reason for the implementation of Louisiana’s bad incarceration practices, it is definitely a reason for the fight to keep prisoners in place and the resistance to letting them go.   

However, bad incarceration practices unnecessarily place people behind bars, sometimes costing them their lives, families and livelihoods. These new laws will reduce sentences for nonviolent crimes, shorten sentencing under the habitual offender law and increase parole and probation options. More than 1,400 inmates will be released in November.

While some people might understandably be concerned about the possibility of more crimes, they should be even more concerned about the possibility of undeserving citizens being locked up in jails for the wrong reasons and with unfair sentences.

Prator is trying to protect a form of modern-day slavery, paid for with our tax dollars. If those tax dollars aren’t enough, Louisiana needs to think of a better way to handle the incarceration problem than incarcerating more people as prisoners to balance the budget with free labor.

This only exacerbates the underlying issue, highlighting the corruption of Louisiana’s legal system and its desperate need for reform. It is honestly disheartening to see a system so overused and underdeveloped that the enforcers of the law feel pressured to resort to unjust measures simply to do their jobs.

Prator may have once been a moral man, or he may have been corrupt from the start of his career. Whatever his story, he represents the attitudes sadly carried by many others in the law enforcement field.

These new sentencing laws are a good start to help weed out not only unnecessary prisoners, but the dishonorable officers of the law who help put and keep them there, too.

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Over-incarceration a new form of slavery