Louisiana remains the country’s prison capital by a long shot, but a federal report released Tuesday shows the number of people imprisoned in the state has dipped slightly.Hell we're even "bucking the trend."
The report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates Louisiana’s prison population fell by 2.2 percent to below 40,000 last year after eclipsing the threshold for the first time in 2012.
Jimmy LeBlanc, head of the state’s Department of Corrections and Public Safety, expressed cautious optimism about the trend in an interview this spring.
“We’ve never been on a trend like we’re on now for so many months, where it continues to drop,” LeBlanc said at the time. “So some good things are starting.”
In a statement on Tuesday, LeBlanc partly attributed the incarceration decline to work being done by the state to improve re-entry programs that help integrate recently released prisoners back into society. In addition, expanded pre-release education is being provided to inmates preparing for freedom. Also, an effort has been made to enhance services available to offenders who are out on supervised release, Leblanc said in the statement.
The change in Louisiana contrasted the national trend, in which the country’s population of incarcerated people increased slightlyBut let's not kid ourselves. As long as the incentives to house more inmates exist, we're going to keep putting people in jail.
Today, wardens make daily rounds of calls to other sheriffs' prisons in search of convicts to fill their beds. Urban areas such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge have an excess of sentenced criminals, while prisons in remote parishes must import inmates to survive.
The more empty beds, the more an operation sinks into the red. With maximum occupancy and a thrifty touch with expenses, a sheriff can divert the profits to his law enforcement arm, outfitting his deputies with new squad cars, guns and laptops. Inmates spend months or years in 80-man dormitories with nothing to do and few educational opportunities before being released into society with $10 and a bus ticket.
Fred Schoonover, deputy warden of the 522-bed Tensas Parish Detention Center in northeast Louisiana, says he does not view inmates as a "commodity." But he acknowledges that the prison's business model is built on head counts. Like other wardens in this part of the state, he wheels and deals to maintain his tally of human beings. His boss, Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones, relies on him to keep the numbers up.