Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the United States.
Decades ago, as Louisiana’s prison population swelled, local sheriffs were enlisted to house inmates in their parish jails. Louisiana soon became the state with the biggest share of inmates in local lockups. The sheriffs get $24.39 a day from the state to house each inmate. By contrast, an inmate in a Department of Corrections facility costs the state just over $50.00 a day.
Now some Republican lawmakers and the state’s Democratic governor are backing legislation aimed at reducing the prison population and bringing widespread change to a state commonly known as the world’s prison capital.
But in a state where law and order is embedded in the culture and the economy, two of the most powerful lobbies—elected sheriffs and district attorneys—are blocking some attempts at reform. Less state revenue to house inmates means fewer corrections jobs and less cheap inmate labor.
A parish prison warden used the word “catastrophic” to describe the economic impact of fewer state inmates in parish jails. On the other hand, proponents of an aggressive overhaul of the corrections system say curtailing the prisoner population is critical to ensuring the state has enough resources for programs that keep ex-inmates from returning to prison.
Shot on assignment for The Wall Street Journal.