Growing Population of Prisoners in Louisiana.

 

 

I recently read a very interesting article in NOLA.con concerning the growing size of in populations in prisons in Louisiana.

Frankly, this is one statistic concerning Louisiana that I am not proud of… It seems  Louisiana continues to lead the world with the number of people incarcerated.  Unfortunately, the number of people in Louisiana’s prisons has doubled over the last 20 years, at a cost of billions of dollars to the state taxpayers. Even more regretful is the fact that the prison industry is a large employer in many of the state’s parishes.

Maintaining the state´s prison population is of the utmost importance, in fact Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Fredericka Wickers recently suggested that bedridden inmates should be moved to hospitals. Wicker has said that even though the state has already allocated millions of dollars from the general fund to cover the medical expenses of inmates, the number of prisoners requiring medical care is escalating.  Louisiana law  requires convicts to serve 85 percent of their sentences, this fact suggests that the jail population will continue to escalate out of control.

Under Judge Wicker’s proposal, something called medical probation would go into effect.  At the present time mentally ill patients are housed in prisons with the cost footed by the state.  If they are transferred to hospitals or licensed hospice facilities, the inmates’ care would be covered under Medicare or Medicaid, Wicker said.

“These guys are on their death bed — the difference is whether they die in a hospital bed in a hospital, or die in a hospital bed behind Angola’s walls,” said state Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie.

The Nola article is very interesting, it states that the challenge of changing sentencing laws is particularly difficult in Louisiana, Wicker said. She noted that many states she identified as southern and conservative, such as South Carolina and Texas, were able to push through changes within a year of identifying problems; incarceration rates in Texas, particularly, have dropped. The Louisiana Sentencing Commission, however, has made only modest gains since 2009. “Our culture is one of high sentencing,” Wicker said, so “our work is incremental.” Wicker serves on the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, as does Lopinto.

“It’s politics,” chimed in Lopinto. “No one got elected by saying ‘I’m going to go up to Baton Rouge and let a bunch of people out of jail.'”

Representative Lopinto is right, this is a very difficult issue, one that will require tremendous focus and strength on the part of politicians. It seems to me that aside from the moral aspect of holding thousands of people in jail for inordinate amounts of time, it is now evident that the economic component of holding people in jail might drive government to a solution.

I am Attorney Martin E. Regan, JR., and these are my personal thoughts.