Search This Blog


Tougher times unlikely to reduce LA incarceration rate

In grappling with budget woes, Louisiana as is many states is cutting back in correctional work, but unlike others isn’t actually emptying some jails. This is congruent with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s governance philosophy and the structuring of state correctional policy, and is unlikely to change.

One might think Louisiana would be a prime candidate to reduce correctional expenses by imprisoning fewer in order to reduce overall government spending. The state has the highest per capita incarceration rate of all and the per capita expenses in the area of corrections are also above the national average, raking 17th. However, strategies to take prisoners out of incarceration if not freeing them have not been pursued.

In his midyear budget cuts, in terms of discretionary dollars, the approximately $11 million Jindal ordered out and compiled with by the Legislature in he area of corrections was only 6.2 percent of its budget, a little less than the general fund’s overall 7 percent figure. Further, the areas disproportionately cut where those that dealt with the nontraditional areas of corrections, most principally being not pursuing an expansion to a dedicated skilled nursing unit and in divesting the state of a unit dedicated to rehabilitation for dependency. Outside of these areas, most of the rest of the reductions were in staffing.

Fewer incarcerations could result without the expanded skilled nursing capacity as inmates who would have been shifted to the new unit would have freed up space for others, if demand for them is there. But something to recall is that with a population decrease of almost 60,000 from 2000 (maybe closer to zero as a result of recent revisions) as a result of the 2005 hurricane disasters, a smaller population means less space needed for incarceration. Also, Louisiana law tends to outsource state prison populations to local facilities since sheriffs legally are paid a pittance to house local prisoners but three times as much to house state prisoners so this has led to a disproportionately smaller state system than might otherwise be with slack taken up by local jails, leaving less ability to free inmates to save money at the state level. Finally, the average daily expense of a state prisoner is among the lowest in the nation at $36.09 so there’s not much margin to cut there, either.

We also must note that Jindal himself consistently has stumped for stiff penalties for crimes that presumably would favor incarceration. One of his latest initiatives concerns those committing sexual crimes, and he and the state garnered much publicity when the state’s law that permitted capital punishment of rapists of children was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court which Jindal wants reformulated to make constitutional muster. In short, methods of punishment that deliberately steer away from incarceration will not be high on Jindal’s priority list.

Those who believe incarceration is used too much that applaud financial difficulties forcing policy change to their liking should not get too optimistic about that happening in Louisiana. Even the state’s huge looming projected 2009-10 budget deficit probably will not trigger any less emphasis to incarceration in Louisiana, given the existing political dynamics.

No comments: