Convict leasing, was a system of force penal labour practiced in the deep south of United States that began with the emancipation of slaves at the end of the American Civil War in 1865, and it was supposed to end in Alabama in 1928, but even today it still prevails in Louisiana.
It provided prisoner labour to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations but corruption, lack of accountability and racial violence resulted in one of the harshest and most exploitative labour systems known in American history.
Louisiana is the world’s prison capital; the state imprisons more of its people, than any of the other state of the Union.
That state is the most glaring example of how the US prison system policies have failed and it also is a showcase of how private prisons do not serve the public interest. It also shows how mass incarceration is an abomination of justice and civility that creates a long term crisis.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune published that the very people entrusted to enforce the law in the state have deep financial ties to the for profit prisons, which house a majority of all Louisiana inmates.
“You have people who are so invested in maintaining the present system, not just the sheriffs, but judges, prosecutors, and many other people who have links to it,” said Burk Foster, a former professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette and an expert on Louisiana prisons.
“They don’t want to see the prison system get smaller or the number of people in custody reduced, even though the crime rate is down, because the good old boys are all linked together in a punishment network, which is good for them financially and politically.”
The $182 million private prison industry in Louisiana flourishes from a system full with conflicts of interest and unjust abusive practices.
One in 86 Louisiana adults is in the prison system, which is nearly double the national average and more than 50 percent of Louisiana’s inmates are in local prisons, which is more than any other state. The next highest state is Kentucky at 33 percent. The national average is only 5 percent.
Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of its prisoners serving life sentence without parole and spends less on local inmates than any other state.
Nearly two-thirds of Louisiana’s prisoners are non-violent offenders. The national average is less than half. This has meant that Louisiana has some of the stiffest sentencing guidelines in the entire country.
There is another problem with this morally offensive system, prisoners who wind up in these for profit jails, where many of the inmates are short-timers, get fewer rehabilitative services than those in state institutions.
According to The Times-Picayune: “In five years, about half of the state’s ex-convicts end up behind bars again.”
Furthermore, the more money the state spends on incarceration, the less it can spend on preventive measures like education.
According to Education Week’s State Report Cards, Louisiana was one of three states to receive a rate of bad in education achievement in 2011.
In the early 1990s, the state was under a federal court order to reduce overcrowding, but instead of releasing prisoners or loosening sentencing guidelines, the state bet it all in building more private prisons and instead encouraged sheriffs to pay for private prison construction.
In return, they would, enjoy a cut of all future profits. “The financial incentives were so sweet, and the corrections jobs so sought after, that new prisons sprouted up all over rural Louisiana” says The Picayune newspaper.
Two decades later, this now-entrenched private prison system has helped to double Louisiana’s prison population. In fact, the state wins the distinction of imprisoning more of its residents than any other legal jurisdiction on the planet.
Despite Louisiana having the highest murder rate in the country, it surprisingly has a much lower percentage of people incarcerated for violent offences when compared to the national average, and a much higher percentage behind bars for drug offences when compared to the national average.
Why? Because violent criminals like murderers, rapists, armed robbers, get sent to state prisons, whereas the non-violent offenders are housed at private for profit prisons. The sheriffs therefore have a financial incentive to find and charge more non-violent offenders.
But the profiteering goes even beyond the sheriffs. One article of that newspaper describes the entire corrupt judicial system as being in on “the take”.
Non violent criminals, will get sent to a private prison where they will do little more than sit in an overcrowded 80 men cell for months or years, gaining no skills that might prepare them to qualify for a good job upon release.
On their release date, they will enter the community with a criminal record and no new vocational skills, making it virtually impossible to find a job in the outside, this, helps to ensure they return as repeat offenders, says Charles M. Blow from The New York Times.