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Louisiana Inc. arcerated
May 26, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

"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 triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's. The hidden engine behind the state's well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash." Louisiana Incarcerated is a tour de force eight-part series on the Louisiana prison system. posted by painquale (48 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 


Capitalism! What a sick perversion of "justice" and, frankly, a great case for the newspaper industry to show the merits of investing in investigative journalism.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:46 PM on May 26, 2012


A fine piece of journalism from a daily newspaper that soon will not be daily anymore. :(
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:48 PM on May 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Capitalism!
well, Germany and Norway are also capitalist societies so we'd have to more specific than that
posted by Bwithh at 2:03 PM on May 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


For decades after the Civil War in the South, there was a systematic use of various nuisance laws (such as vagrancy) in a scheme to imprison poor black (primarily) people and force them to work for free for lengthy periods of time. This was really slavery by another name. Unbelievable number of people were affected. I see this is an addiction - to free labor - that's hard to kick, and persists to this day.
posted by VikingSword at 2:04 PM on May 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think that the forced labor interpretations of the 13th amendment are a real problem in this country. They allow a legal framework for the southeast to preserve its 17th century economic system, with wealthy property/infrastructure owners , middle class prison guards/slave drivers, and a large underclass of takaru(ala Vonnegut, Player Piano). It's also inhumane for workers of any trade to compete against human chattel, the living standards eventually equilibrate. You can make the same arguments against 'Globalization', which is really the same old imperialism with fancier buzzwords.
posted by MisplaceDisgrace at 2:08 PM on May 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


well, Germany and Norway are also capitalist societies so we'd have to more specific than that

Runaway capitalism! Rampant capitalism! Capitalism damn-all-else!
posted by JHarris at 2:09 PM on May 26, 2012


well, Germany and Norway are also capitalist societies so we'd have to more specific than that

Do Germany and Norway have privatized prisons? IIRC, Germany does have a few privately run prisons, but nowhere near what the U.S. does.

Prisons, along with health care, education, and emergency services, should not be privatized.
posted by zardoz at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is wonderfully thorough journalism. Thanks for the post.
posted by brina at 3:02 PM on May 26, 2012


Prisons, along with health care, education, and emergency services, should not be privatized.

"Before we douse your burning house, you'll have to pay the Hose Charging Charge, and don't forget to tip the paramedics."

A system in which the people in charge of the prisons have a financial incentive to increase the number of people incarcerated is isomorphic to a system in which the firefighters are paid on commission and thereby encouraged to commit arson.
posted by kengraham at 3:04 PM on May 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


nolatoangola.org
posted by eustatic at 3:15 PM on May 26, 2012


The men's side, along with a women's facility next door, is full to capacity, about 800 beds all told. Cupp's "honey holes," as he calls them, are flowing nicely.

creepiest euphemism ever? y/n
posted by LogicalDash at 3:22 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It always amazes me what humans are capable of doing to one another. You know it's bad when Iran, IRAN for fucks sake, imprisons less people.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:30 PM on May 26, 2012


well, Germany and Norway are also capitalist societies so we'd have to more specific than that

I'm not sure Germany is a good staple of comparison when it comes to imprisoning people for free labor.
posted by Malice at 4:46 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


My country used to be #1 in manufacturing and a contender to be number one in medical care and education. Now, we're number one at this. Let's blame the liberals.
posted by tyllwin at 5:05 PM on May 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just want to register that I live in Louisiana and I know about this and I see the effects of it every day and it makes me fucking sick. I wish I saw a solution but it's pretty deeply embedded in the social structure, like a festering wound that refuses to heal. We are literally crippled by this issue -- culturally, economically, politically, socially -- and we don't see it because it's so endemic that it's just part of the background, part of the air.

It's also no coincidence that it serves the self-interest of many powerful people to keep things just as they are.
posted by Scientist at 5:12 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are literally crippled by this issue -- culturally, economically, politically, socially

jesus christ no you are not! You are precisely metaphorically crippled. Is your culture walking around on critches LITERALLY??
posted by spicynuts at 5:28 PM on May 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Sorry, spicynuts, but I live here also and can report every last cultural, economic, political, social (and may I add, public educational) system down here is absolutely on critches. Not walking around, just pegged in place by their critches and every so often sliding backwards.

The Feds are investigating and finalizing their terms for taking over the NOPD so maybe the police will see some improvement soon.

Nobody here is laughing or speaking in metaphors.
posted by Anitanola at 6:21 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cultural, economic, political, whateveral systems do not have literal physical legs they could actually walk around on if they were not crippled. That is why they are not literally crippled.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:32 PM on May 26, 2012


[Word-usage nitpicking is not as entertaining as you might think. Please move on. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:38 PM on May 26, 2012 [28 favorites]


After all the stories I've heard across the decades about corruption in Louisiana, I'm not surprised they have the highest incarceration rate in the US. But then, it's also not the corrupt I've heard about who are being locked up, so that sucks.
posted by hippybear at 6:55 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Southern system also taught the rest of the nation, in the early decades of the 20th century, how profitable prisons could be. We've never recovered.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Louisiana has the highest murder rate and second highest violent crime rate of the states.
http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0308.pdf

I'm thinking a high incarceration rate alone is inadequate evidence of harsh sentencing. Perhaps the *ratio* of incarceration rate to violent crime would be a better indicator.
posted by gyp casino at 7:39 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two years ago, BBC's QI Series G Episode 11 had a question about the percentage of Americans in "gaol" (to keep it in the "G's) and Fry's comment recalls some recent remarks about penal servitude not being abolished but actually remaining in the constitution as an exception to the abolition of slavery and clearly implying that it is a profitable and protected part of the system.

"'It is illegal to bring into the United States any goods produced by forced labor or by prisoners, yet American prisoners make 100% of the military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags as well some other items used by the US military. Although a prisoner is not technically forced to work, solitary confinement is the punishment for refusal. They also make 93% of domestically produced paints, 36% of home appliances and 21% of office furniture.'"

This is particularly resonant with those who fight for social justice in this city and state. Don't believe the glib retorts that offer easy solutions. Race is clearly highly significant in the operating system of the prison-industrial complex. With one in seven black men in this city either in jail, on probation or parole, hardly a black family is untouched by the many evils of this system. We are in almost no way at all a post-racial society.

Felons, when they are released from the jails or private jails in which they served their often inflated sentences, cannot find work, cannot vote, are restricted in many other ways and often find acceptance only back on the street.

When you see on the national stage a Wynton Marsalis or a Trombone Shorty from New Orleans, you are seeing a miracle. Many other bright and talented young black men are cut down in a drive-by shooting, a mistaken identity, or seemingly incidentally imprisoned because of where they were standing. Their families have no funds to mount an expensive defense and they are lost. Their potential contributions to their families and this culture can be stunted by poor educational opportunities or completely lost in a great many other ways.

Not everyone here is part of the problem but those who are working on it even if joined together (which they are not) are not powerful or numerous enough to effect the monumental change that is needed.

But what is there to do but keep working, keep writing, keep asking for help? This was a stunning and wonderful journalistic work. It was followed promptly by the announcement of cuts in the publication.
posted by Anitanola at 8:09 PM on May 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm thinking a high incarceration rate alone is inadequate evidence of harsh sentencing. Perhaps the *ratio* of incarceration rate to violent crime would be a better indicator.

gyp casino, keep yer gol-durned facts outa this-here conversation, ya hear?

(Spits terbacky juice, goes back to playing stud with a 53-card deck.)

(I'm from Missouri; we don't actually know shit about how Louisianans talk...)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2012


I wonder what would happen if a tourism embargo were enacted. No Jazz Festivals, No Mardi Gras, no vacations to LA period. I wonder if making the entire state a non-destination would pressure them to change.

/wishful thinking
posted by sourwookie at 9:16 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


sourwookie: name an embargo that has worked, ever.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:18 PM on May 26, 2012


Bartertown.
posted by sourwookie at 9:25 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


siourwookie: "I wonder if making the entire state a non-destination would pressure them to change."

Who would that change? The Governor of Louisiana, The Port of New Orleans, the petrochemical industry? An embargo on tourism would take away jobs from the service employees at the bottom of the heap: the hotel service staff, parking attendants, busboys, kitchen staff, short order cooks, streetcar drivers, the thousands of service workers in restaurants, institutions and homes who ride the busses and make the least amount of money and take care of whole families on too little pay. The elderly and the sick would have their benefits cut and receive less help from the community than they have now.

Young professionals and the mobile, educated, connected young people who work in business, the arts and education would leave--maybe they'd come to Missouri but probably not. The profitable industries would keep on making money. Those who have work in them would stay, probably even after the inevitable pay cut. This country would keep benefitting from drilling offshore and polluting Louisiana wetlands and waters at least for a while. New Orleans would be here until the river changes its channel as the port serves the country but it would get smaller and city taxes would go up again and there'd be more death. Still, I doubt the law would change in this stalwart red state.
posted by Anitanola at 9:49 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking a high incarceration rate alone is inadequate evidence of harsh sentencing. Perhaps the *ratio* of incarceration rate to violent crime would be a better indicator.

Gyp Casino: The NYTimes link (which is merely a synopsis of the longer reporting) points the statistic you seem to be asking for:

"• Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are nonviolent offenders. The national average is less than half."
posted by el io at 10:02 PM on May 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


It was just idle musing. I see that "tourism and culture" only account for just over $5 billion out of over $213 billion GSP.
posted by sourwookie at 10:11 PM on May 26, 2012


I'm optimistic, any day now, I expect people to actually read that tour-de-force, the phenomenal series that started this discussion and might just be the swan song of the 175-year-old Times-Picayune, paper of record in New Orleans--a city that will celebrate its tricentennial in three years--if it lasts that long. ; )
posted by Anitanola at 10:36 PM on May 26, 2012


On capitalism: most definitions of this concept are such that almost all of today's western/more affluent countries fit; moreover, there are many definitions and no general consensus about what the word indicates. Usually it is taken for a combination of privately owned means of production and the profit motive. These two alone do not necessarily lead to a situation like this.

The economic root (there are of course also "social" ones - for lack of a more angry word for designating legalised slavery of the black populace) is the Hayek-Friedman cult of the free market, an essentially religious belief system: like divine providence, the market alone takes care of and upholds the functioning of the world, and will also end up producing a perfect equilibrium of the distribution of goods - the best of all possible worlds, as it were.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:39 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


From that NYT link: • Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are nonviolent offenders. The national average is less than half.

And that's why pot won't be legal any time soon - too many people profit from keeping it illegal. Starting with these prisons.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:18 AM on May 27, 2012


Post-Racial? Seems like this is barely Post-Slavery
posted by fullerine at 1:58 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Post-Racial? Seems like this is barely Post-Slavery

In addition to having the highest rates of incarceration, Louisiana is also the only American state whose law is based on the Code Napoléon and not on English Common Law. The Napoleonic Code reflected the egalitarian mores of post revolutionary France, it replaced the old feudal system in France, it wiped out class privilege, but it did re-introduce slavery to French colonies.

Strange that the state of Louisiana still appears more like a French colony than a American state frog-marched back into the Union at the point of a gun.
posted by three blind mice at 2:14 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great pointer, painquale, thanks.

For decades after the Civil War in the South, there was a systematic use of various nuisance laws (such as vagrancy) in a scheme to imprison poor black (primarily) people and force them to work for free for lengthy periods of time. This was really slavery by another name.

There's a book about that system: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon, Atlanta bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal; it won the Pulitzer for general nonfiction a couple years ago:

...a groundbreaking and disturbing account of a sordid chapter in American history—the lease (essentially the sale) of convicts to “commercial interests” between the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th.

Usually, the criminal offense was loosely defined vagrancy or even “changing employers without permission.” The initial sentence was brutal enough; the actual penalty, “reserved almost exclusively for black men,” was a form of slavery in one of “hundreds of forced labor camps” operated “by state and county governments, large corporations, small time entrepreneurs and provincial farmers"....Blackmon’s book reveals in devastating detail the legal and commercial forces that created this neoslavery along with deeply moving and totally appalling personal testimonies of survivors. “Every incident in this book is true,” he writes; one wishes it were not so.

posted by mediareport at 5:20 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Post-Racial? Seems like this is barely Post-Slavery

Here is a job my brother was forced to do in one of the Louisiana prisons he has been in: go out into the fields and pick greens. Then go to a basketball court to clean the greens.

I wish I were kidding.
posted by liketitanic at 5:44 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I wonder what would happen if a tourism embargo were enacted. No Jazz Festivals, No Mardi Gras, no vacations to LA period. I wonder if making the entire state a non-destination would pressure them to change.

There would still be Mardi Gras. It's at least as much a local thing as it is a tourism thing.

The Southern system also taught the rest of the nation, in the early decades of the 20th century, how profitable prisons could be. We've never recovered.

It happened a lot earlier than that, actually.
posted by liketitanic at 5:47 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


To add to mediareport's recommendations, another excellent (infuriating) book on the system is Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeak of Jim Crow Justice.

liketitanic, that also looks like an excellent book. In pointing to the early 20th century as the point at which we developed our present national approach, I'm specifically speaking about the model of using criminal legislation with harsh penalties for smaller crimes (loitering, vandalism, fistfighting with a willing opponent as a result of an argument) as a way to keep prison populations high, and then imposing extremely lengthy sentences and using the "quality of life crime" and progressive arguments for rehabilitation and prisoner care as a way to win public favor for capturing state and federal dollars in an age of expansion of government spending.

Some of the roots of that system do go back to reconstruction at least, and the rehabilitation idea goes back to the very foundations of the American system, which was one of the first enlightened systems to explore the proposition "What if we don't just hang criminals outright a coupl days after conviction, but instead let them meditate on their wrongdoing and then be refitted for society?" but the specific structure created in the 20s and 30s South is pretty familiar today.

Looks like an excellent book. I'd like to read it. Or, I should say, I'd like to have read it. It took me a year to get through Worse Than Slavery because I would read half a chapter, be just sickened and saddened, and put it down. This topic doesn't make for the kind of bedtime reading you look forward to.
posted by Miko at 6:40 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The economic root (there are of course also "social" ones - for lack of a more angry word for designating legalised slavery of the black populace) is the Hayek-Friedman cult of the free market,

Much as I detest this quasi-religious excuse for economic theory, the phenomenon goes back further. I would say it is a bivariate function of two much older phenomena: unconstrained greed and thorough-going racism.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:58 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It might be the biggest motivation for putting all these people in prison is that making people more afraid of criminals and locking them up is a successful political election campaign strategy. I am skeptical that prisoners make generally productive labor.
posted by bukvich at 7:22 AM on May 27, 2012


Shit yeah, we don't do Mardi Gras for the sake of the tourists, Jesus, we're not Disneyland!
posted by Scientist at 7:33 AM on May 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bukvich - It's not how productive they are per person, but how productive they are per dollar spent (A quick google around didn't give me any rates above $1/hr).
posted by Orb2069 at 7:34 AM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


America the beautiful. Our delusions let us go to hell without screaming. I wonder when we can have open discussions about the flavors of capitalism without being dismissed as subversive.

The situation is systemic. Its roots reach far back into our history. Remember that the plantation owners used white overseers to actually do the daily work of handling the slaves. The man with the whip is driven not by profits--he's not getting paid much--but by notions of superiority. He identifies with the white landowners. His shackles aren't chains, but rationalizations that blind him to the injustices he commits upon his fellow humans. These rationalizations are the foundation of of the empire, and they are powerful because they are drawn from ancient tribal fears. (ah, you get the idea.)

Unplug the dated nouns, and plug in the more contemporary chauvinistic buzzwords we use to tell ourselves that we are the greatest country in the world....confusing metrics hide the system's workings, subjective social views divide the arguments into small efforts that don't stand up to the veritable tides of profit potential. We have bought a bizzarro Darwinian version of reality: survival of the fittest. We bought the whole thing to the point that we consider our economic set up to be unchallengeable, even axiomatic, and we want to give it to others, so that they, too, may be as prosperous as we are. As we aspire to improve ourselves we believe the American Dream is the only key to doing so. We think "anybody can..." and forget that this doesn't mean that "everybody can..." Reality means that only perhaps ten percent can, because it takes ninety percent of us to create the capillary flow of wealth upward to the masters.

Um, the lottery is a useful metaphor, too: a hope for the desperate, who can afford a dollar to evoke a dream, but can't scrape up enough bucks for a doctor's fee. I think the system probably will fall under its own weight, but I'm not sure the resolution won't be catastrophic. Please remember Pogo's warning about who the enemy is. Doesn't do us any good to look down our noses at them cornbread and cracker dudes in that end of our country. Maybe you can call them the tip of the spear. If so, then the rest of us are the goddam shaft. Surviving this is going to be tougher than getting a bunch of kids out of the back of the bus. Token solutions probably won't matter.

Meanwhile, let us worship a bucket of dollahs.
posted by mule98J at 8:48 AM on May 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


We never abolished slavery, we merely white-washed it and turned it over to GEO/CCA.
posted by malocchio at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Orb2069 their salary is a tiny fraction of what it costs the state to lock a guy up. Some private enterprise may be making a profit off of them but the taxpayers surely are not.
posted by bukvich at 4:40 PM on May 27, 2012


Kind of my point, bukvich - businesses can afford to pay these people $1/hr because the people outside pay for their food and shelter - which means that prison labor not only takes jobs away from people on the outside, it also gets subsidized by their tax dollars.
The labor itself can be really inefficient/incompetent, but you can throw giant buckets of it at a task for the same dollar amount.
posted by Orb2069 at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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