Louisiana had the highest per capita incarceration rates for prisons and jails in the United States in 2020, bogged down by lengthy sentences and other related problems. according to a study by the Public Welfare Foundation.
According to the study, no southern state has a higher percentage of people serving the natural life without the possibility of parole than Louisiana. In Louisiana, 16.6 percent of inmates are serving life without parole.
The state’s aging prison population has also more than doubled in the past 30 years, according to the study. About a quarter of Louisiana prison inmates are over 50 years old.
However, as the state fights high levels of incarceration, rates are unlikely to go down. According to the report, long or mandatory prison sentences, limited parolees, and similar matters are complicating the decline in incarceration rates in the state.
A minimum sentence imposed by the state is an automatic life sentence for anyone convicted of second-degree murder.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections estimates the median sentence for the state’s entire prison population at 18 years. The high average is partly because 41 percent of people with short-term sentences over 20 years are serving 40 years or more, the study found.
But more than half of Louisiana’s 20+ year inmates have served 10 years or less.
In addition, according to the study, 21 percent of Louisiana prisoners are serving sentences longer than 20 years, life without the possibility of parole or death.
But financial and racial differences also weigh on the prison system in Louisiana, the study found.
According to the ACLU-Louisiana, the median bail is $24,000 while the median income in Louisiana is $27,027.
While one-third of Louisiana’s population is black, blacks make up over two-thirds of those incarcerated, and the biggest difference is long prison sentences. According to the study, over 44 percent of incarcerated Blacks are serving sentences of less than 10 years, compared to 52.9 percent of Whites.
Around 30,000 people are on probation in Louisiana; 50 percent are black. About 69.5 percent of probation officers were charged with drug or property offenses, with few receiving suspended sentences if convicted of a violent crime.
According to the study, Louisiana’s prison population is unlikely to drop drastically without significant policy changes.
“Mass incarceration is the biggest industry we have in this state,” said Rev. Alexis Anderson, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition, in the study.
The Full Report, Louisiana Justice: Pre-trial, Incarceration, & Reentry, can be read here. That Charitable Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded to support efforts to promote justice and opportunity for those in need.