R. Reese Fuller

La. has highest incarceration rate

by R. Reese Fuller

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. According to numbers released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics for the first half of 2007, Louisiana had 857 prisoners per 100,000 residents. (Maine has the lowest rate, with 133 prisoners per 100,000 residents.) Read a PDF of the 24-page report.

A recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008," indicates that for the first time in history, more than one in every 100 adults are incarcerated in an American jail or prison. (Read a PDF of the entire 40-page report.)

As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise. Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before. However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years. And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole.

Today's edition of The Advocate takes a look at this issue on the state level:

Cecile Guin, director of the Office of Social Service Research and Development at LSU, expressed frustration over the federal statistics and Pew's findings.

"We cannot get our correctional policy to change in this state," Guin said. "Over the last 10 years, violent crime has decreased, but incarceration continues to increase."

Guin added: "Somewhere down the line, this state is going to have to choose between incarceration and education."