Louisiana had the highest per capita incarceration rates for prisons and jails in the United States in 2020, bogged down by long sentences and other related issues, according to a Public Welfare Foundation study.
No southern state has a higher percentage of people serving natural life without the possibility of parole than Louisiana, the study finds. In Louisiana, 16.6 percent of incarcerated individuals are serving life without parole.
According to the study, the state’s aging prison population has also more than doubled in the last 30 years. About a quarter of the prison population in Louisiana is over 50.
But as the state battles high incarceration, the rates seem unlikely to drop. According to the report, long or mandatory sentences, limited releases through parole and related matters make drop-offs in incarceration rates difficult in the state.
One minimum sentence the state uses is an automatic life sentence for anyone convicted of second-degree murder.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections estimates the mean sentence for the state’s total prison population as 18 years. The high average is partly because 41 percent of people with fixed-term sentences over 20 years serve 40 years or more, the study finds.
But over half of Louisiana inmates sentenced to over 20 years have served 10 years or less.
In addition, 21 percent of prisoners serve sentences over 20 years, life without the possibility of parole or death in Louisiana, according to the study.
But financial and racial disparities also burden the Louisiana prison system, the study finds.
According to the ACLU-Louisiana, the median bail amount is $24,000, while the median income in Louisiana is $27,027.
While one-third of Louisiana’s population is Black, Black people make up over two-thirds of those incarcerated and the most significant disparity is in long sentences. Over 44 percent of Black incarcerated people serve sentences of less than 10 years, compared to 52.9 percent of white people, the study finds.
Around 30,000 people are on probation in Louisiana; 50 percent are Black. About 69.5 percent of those on probation were charged with drug or property offenses, with few receiving probations if convicted of a violent crime.
According to the study, it is unlikely the Louisiana prison population will drastically drop without significant policy changes.
“Mass incarceration is the largest industry we have in this state,” said Rev. Alexis Anderson in the study, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition.
The full report, Louisiana Justice: Pre-trial, Incarceration, & Reentry, can be read here. The Public Welfare Foundation is a non-profit founded to support efforts to advance justice and opportunity for people in need.