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We're Number One: Locking Them Up

Media Commons

Usually “We’re Number One” is something to brag about, but in this case, it’s not a stellar statistic.

“The United States leads the world in the number of people we incarcerate, and Louisiana leads the country. We are number one in the nation in the number of people we lock up,” Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson advised the legislature recently.

But what does that mean, in overall numbers?

“36,377 total incarcerated; 18,430 that are in our state facilities.” Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc has advised lawmakers.

Chief Justice Johnson broke that number down further.

“One in 86 adult Louisianians is behind bars, which is nearly twice the national average,”

Johnson explained. “I guess it wouldn’t matter, except it costs us money. We spend over $600-million on state corrections.”

That works out to a cost of nearly $16,500 per prisoner, per year.

But who are these thousands of prisoners costing the state millions, and what did they do to get locked up? LeBlanc gave the stats.

“44.6 percent of our prisoners are violent. 22.7 are doing time for drug offenses. 17.1 is property crimes, and all other is 15.6.”

Demographically, the prison population does not match with the state’s general population, which, according to the Census Bureau, is 32-percent African-American.

“The black population is 72% at the state level,” LeBlanc said.

These aren’t primarily youthful offenders, either.

“Average age is almost 40 in the state level and 34 at the local level,” Leblanc stated, adding the number of offenders age 50 or older has doubled in the past ten years.

So why has Louisiana become the prisoner capital of the world? Chief Justice Johnson has an idea:

“We’re also the poorest state in the nation. If we’re number one in locking people up and we’re number one in terms of poverty, maybe there’s a connection there?”

Tomorrow we look at how we got to be number one — and some of the ideas for moving down in the rankings.