Louisiana could take cues from other states to trim prison population
Will Sentell of The New Orleans Advocate reports that Bernette J. Johnson, the first black chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, noted the United states leads the world in prison lockups – and Louisiana leads the nation in the same category – during a joint session of the legislature during the annual State of the Judiciary address on Tuesday (March 15). During her speech, she brought up alternatives to incarceration that she and other officials believe would benefit the state economy and quality of life.
“I rarely make a speech these days without talking about mass incarceration,” said Johnson. “We lock up more people than Iran, 13 times more than China, 20 times more than Germany. I guess it wouldn’t matter, except that it costs us money” (The Advocate).
Johnson said that one in 86 adults in the state is behind bars, nearly twice the national average. She told lawmakers that, during a conference last May, the former president of the American Bar Association led a discussion on finding alternatives to jailings, referring to South Carolina’s recent legislation which successfully attempted to trim the prison population and reduce violent crime (The Advocate).
“The legislative reforms are estimated to save the state of South Carolina $350 million,” said Johnson. “I believe that comprehensive solutions to Louisiana’s over-incarceration must include statewide pre-trial services, and there are models available to us” (The Advocate).
The interest in pre-trial reform and the reform of the prison system in Louisiana can be linked to broader conversations about race and incarceration in Louisiana and the United States. Chris Grillot of The Advocate reported on a recent lecture held by civil rights author and lawyer Michelle Alexander at LSU this week (March 14), during which Alexander claimed that America’s high incarceration rate among African Americans is the greatest issue of the 21st century. Alexander, a professor at Ohio State University, called the phenomena “The New Jim Crow” (The Advocate).
Alexander spoke at LSU as part of the university’s “Critical Conversations: The Cradle to Prison Pipeline” program, designed to educate students, faculty, and staff about mass incarceration in the U.S. and Louisiana and encourage efforts to pursue social justice in the justice system.
Alexander said that African Americans are “warehoused” in prison systems as “second-class citizens, stripped of their rights like their grandparents before them” during the Jim Crow era (The Advocate).
“The mass incarceration of colored poor people is the most pressing social issue of our time,” she said. “Today, we have a new regime of racial and social control.”
Alexander’s lecture contained parallels to justice Johnson’s observations that it is no coincidence that the most incarcerated populations in Louisiana are also the most impoverished.
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