Monday, May 14, 2012

How Louisiana became the nation's prison capital

Check out an extended series from the New Orleans Times-Picayune titled, "Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the nation's prison capital," which has its own web portal. A few years ago Texas competed with Louisiana for the highest incarceration rate, but ours has leveled off - even slightly declined - while theirs continues to climb. Here's a graphic from the series suggesting four reasons why:
To enlarge, click on the image then click again with the magnifying glass to expand to full-page view.

Reasons #2 and #4, in particular, also apply to Texas. Behind the scenes, though seldom publicly, I suspect the first reason in some cases comes into play as well, but as Jones County can attest, Texas has not much pandered to counties that overbuilt local facilities hoping to lease out contract beds. From Grits' observation, that's more a driving factor for judges and prosecutors on pretrial bail decisions ("if we have the space, why not hold them?") than on how the Texas Legislature sets its carceral priorities.

Reason #3, "Sheriffs trade inmates like horses, shipping a few to a pal up north who has empty beds," has only briefly been an issue in my observation when Harris County was dramatically overcrowded and smaller jurisdictions were courting the Sheriff to fill up empty beds. But Texas jails right now are so overbuilt, the lucky Sheriffs who've secured contract beds aren't frequently giving them away. Similarly, I wouldn't have listed #1 among Texas incarceration drivers. Our local jails are filling up because of pretrial detention, while our prisons are more impacted by long sentences and gutted funding for probation and diversion programs. So our list would look a little different than Louisiana's top four.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There was finally a newspaper article that took the concerns of the TYC/TJJD staff seriously. See Mike Ward's article in the Sunday Austin American Statesman:
Workers trace youth lockup's problems to soft discipline
10:30 PM Saturday, May 12, 2012 by Mike Ward