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SPLC: Louisiana’s title of incarceration capital of the world is an opportunity for smarter criminal justice reform

Louisiana once again has the highest incarceration rate, imprisoning 719 of every 100,000 residents, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The following statement is by Jamila Johnson, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center:

“For nearly 20 years Louisiana was the incarceration capital of the world, a distinction we thought we had relinquished for good last year. Unfortunately, Louisiana bears this shameful title once again. 

“Our state has taken positive steps to address our incarceration crisis, passing bipartisan criminal justice reforms in 2017 to reduce our prison population, save tax dollars and improve public safety. Those reforms have proven successful and continue to grow support, but we clearly need to do more.

“Louisiana remains an outlier. Its harsh sentencing practices, such as habitual offender enhancements, send people to prison for years without acknowledging or addressing addiction, mental illness, poverty or other root causes of crime. Our state’s strict release policies, particularly its use of life and other long sentences without the possibility of parole, keep people locked up without an opportunity for redemption long after they’ve been rehabilitated.

“Louisianans should look at our return to incarceration capital of the world status despite the success of those 2017 criminal justice reforms and see opportunity: opportunity to pass smart policies that would address the most expensive and least effective policies in our prison system, opportunity to invest in our communities, and opportunity to create the criminal justice system we deserve – a system that is fair, equitable and just for all Louisianans.”