Fact: The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Source
Fact: Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the United States. Source
Fact: New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate in Louisiana. Source
The NOPD regales us with programs and statistics making plausible connections between bicycle theft and murder. They have told us that partnerships with neighborhood populations will help stop both the rampant violence and runaway recidivism that is a plague on their homes, all the while ignoring the herd of elephants in the room– nearly 40% of the prison population suffers from mental health issues.
A part of Louisiana’s $39 billion budget deficit includes a corrections department budget of $520 million. This department oversees 38,000 prisoners, the highest prison population in the world, a population that has doubled over the last 20 years while costs have tripled. At an average cost of $30,000 per prisoner and a recidivism rate of more than 50%, we need to rethink how our judicial system works, and how our money is being spent.
New Orleans, how can we change this shocking fact about our city, that we incarcerate more of our citizens than almost any other city in the world? Is prison the place for sex workers and pot smokers? Are drug and alcohol addiction reasons to lock someone away for a multi-decade sentence? Have we decided that rather than treat the mentally ill, it is more advantageous to warehouse them in the prison system – out of sight and out of mind?
I have advocated programs that focus on treatment as opposed to incarceration for drug offenders and the mentally ill. I think that for $30,000 per person per year we as a society have to be able to do something more productive than just put a man in a cage.
I also think our money is better spent finding ways to put non-violent offenders to work and giving them a chance to be useful, as opposed to locking them up and keeping them useless. For $30,000 a year we could fund a full time job at $10/hr. for the entire year and still have money left over.
It’s time to start thinking seriously about things like this. We have tried, no doubt very hard in the last few decades, but the case is becoming quite clear – we cannot jail our way out of the crime problem. Why don’t we try something else?