Prison Capital of the Universe

Dr. Sue Weishar, PhD [JustSouth Quarterly, Spring 2017]

Louisiana is the prison capital of the known universe. The Pelican State incarcerates more of its residents per capita than any other state, in a country that leads the world in incarceration rates. Louisiana’s incarceration rate of 816 inmates per 100,000 residents is almost twice the national average,[1] three times Brazil’s, seven times China’s, and ten times Germany’s.[2] The impact of Louisiana’s bloated and costly criminal justice system on African American communities has been particularly devastating. One in 20 African American adult males in Louisiana is incarcerated, a rate exceeded by only six states. Although only 32 percent of Louisiana’s population is Black, 67.8 percent of its prison population is Black, the second highest proportion of Black inmates in the U.S. (Maryland is first).[3] The state is in dire financial straits, yet Louisiana spends an astronomical amount of money on its criminal justice system: almost $700 million a year,[4] with poor returns—42.5 percent of offenders return to state custody in five years.[5] Every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on schools, hospitals, and coastal restoration. The status quo of Louisiana as the “Incarceration Capital of the World” is financially unsustainable and morally unacceptable. Fortunately, major change is within reach.


Our Perspective:

An introduction to interconnections

By Fred Kammer, SJ

While planning for the Jesuit Social Research Institute preceded Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the ensuing floods, the need for the Institute became increasingly apparent since this devastation of the Gulf Coast region. The images of children, women, and elderly people, mostly poor and black, left behind in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are indelibly etched on the conscience of our nation. They raise hard questions about how our churches, schools, communities, society, and governments have failed in our moral duty to protect, defend, and uplift our neighbors, the poor in our midst. In their own post-Katrina reflections, the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province realized that they too have failed in some ways to address important social concerns and the need to restore right relations and respond to the unjustly suffering and oppressed in the region. People of color, African Americans and Hispanics, bear disproportionate percentages of persistent and pervasive poverty in the South—a heritage of slavery, prejudice, and systemic inequality. Such chronic poverty contributes to and is influenced by higher rates of unemployment, illiteracy, illness, and incarceration among persons of color. JSRI aims to direct its efforts at research, education, and advocacy towards the alleviation of these conditions and their underlying causes.

This work necessarily must explore and come to understand more deeply the interconnections among the issues of race, poverty, and migration and their specific shape in the context of the Gulf South. Why are the jails and prisons composed largely of persons of color? Why is the death penalty so widely used in the South and especially for persons of color? How is the use of the police power and the incarceration of Hispanics in immigration detention centers related to the use of the police power, the criminal justice system, and the incarceration of African-Americans in the region? How does the concentration of poverty among people of color continue to perpetuate racism and inequality, inadequate education, etc.?

This exploration of these many interconnections by JSRI is an ongoing work and occurs in a number of our articles and projects. Some examples follow:

The Cruel Consequences of Hyper-Incarceration--Weishar [JustSouth Monthly, May 2017]

Prison Capital of the Universe-- Weishar [JustSouth Quarterly, Spring 2017]

The Meaning of Social Justice-- Donovan [JustSouth Monthly, May 2016]

Katrina and the Least Among Us: Part 2--Kammer [JustSouth Monthly, September 2015]

Katrina and the Least Among Us: Part 1--Kammer [JustSouth Monthly, August 2015]

Katrina and the Least Among Us: A Ten Year Retrospective-- Kammer

We Are Not God: No Way to Desvise a Fair Death Penalty -- Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Fall 2015]

Canaries in the Coal Mine: The Deep Connection Between Environment Destruction and Poverty -- Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Fall 2015]

Six Myths of Payday Lending -- Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Spring 2014]

Deal for the Devil--Mikulich [JustSouth Monthly, April 2014]

Too Much for Too Many: What does it cost families to live in Louisiana?  [JSRI Special Report, Winter 2014]

In Praise of Newcomers-- Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2013]

Execution Halted: Time to End the Death Penalty--Mikulich [JustSouth E-news, March 2013]

Ash Wednesday Execution: Executing a Life and Human Dignity--Mikulich [JustSouth E-news, January 2013]

The Payday Shark in Your Bank Account -- Mikulich [JustSouth E-News, November 2012]

No Relief in Sight: Persistent High Unemployment for African Americans and Latinos in Gulf South States -- Mikulich [JustSouth E-News, February 2012]

Does Relative Mobility "Cure" Inequality?--Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2012]

Reform of Guestworker Program Thwarted--Weishar [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2012]

Ash Wednesday Execution: Executing a Life and Human Dignity--Mikulich [JustSouth E-news, January 2013]

Execution Halted: Time to End the Death Penalty--Mikulich [JustSouth E-news, March 2013]

Imprisoned, Forgotten, and Deported: Immigration Detention, Advocacy, and the Faith Community [Conference Report]--Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2011]

Shattering Immigrant Families: Immigration and child welfare policies collide--Weishar [JustSouth E-News, November 2011]

The Hidden Border of Whiteness: How race, "illegality," and the immigration industrial complex intersect--Mikulich [JustSouth E-News, October 2011]

Kids don't count much! 2011 KIDS COUNT reports reflect Gulf South's failure to care enough--Kammer [JustSouth E-News, August 2011]

Black wealth, white wealth, brown wealth: Family wealth critical to child opportunity--Kammer [JustSouth E-News, July 2011]

Employment Slow to Rebound: Millions of Gulf South Workers Face Still Greater Challenges--Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2011]

Remembering MLK--Honor the dignity of workers--Mickulich [JustSouth E-News, April 2011]

Religious leaders call Mississippians to end predatory lending--Pending bill continues debt trap for low-income borrowers--Mikulich [JustSouth E-News, January 2011]

It's Criminal! The Consequences of Mass Incarceration without Social Justice--Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2010]

Child Poverty, Rural Poverty, and "Deep Poverty"--Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2010]

Jim Crow--Born Again: The Case of Mississippi--Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Fall 2010]

Tomatoes, Farmworkers, and Social Justice—Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2010]

Racial Wealth Inequality and the Myth of a "Post-Racial" America--Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Summer 2010]

Biblical Hospitality, Immigration, and the Boundary of Whiteness--Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Spring 2010]

Poverty and the Gulf South States--Kammer [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2009]

Where Y'at, Fair Housing?--Mikulich [JustSouth Quarterly, Winter 2009]

Banner Photo: Ignatian Solidarity Network