Commentary: The Horror of Louisiana Justice

A new study goes in-depth to explain just how messed up the Louisiana prison system is.

Posted: 05/31/2012 10:18 AM EDT

We’ve told you before about the ways in which whites found loopholes around the Emancipation Proclamation in order to continue the evil traditions of slavery. Slavery by Another Name, a PBS documentary that premiered in February, clarified exactly how slavery was allowed to continue after 1863, when it was supposed to have ended:

Insidiously, former slave-owners in the South, angered about losing their power over Blacks, found a new way to keep Blacks in bondage, especially Black men, who were more intimidating than Black women. Legislators came up with ridiculous laws, found racist cops to enforce those laws, and then arrested Black men en masse and forced them into labor camps. It was slavery, but not technically slavery, and it went on for decades.

Perhaps nowhere else in the South did the new slavery get as bad as it did in Louisiana. And now, a sweeping new study from the fantastic New Orleans paper The Times-Picayune shows just how bad we’re talking. Though the study is far too large and in-depth for you to truly understand the depth in a summary, the gist for the ultra-busy is this: Louisiana went about constructing a prison system in which entire economies are dependent on incarcerating criminals, a disproportionate number of whom are Black.

One in 86 adults in Louisiana is now in jail, and one in seven Black men from New Orleans is either in prison or entangled in the justice system in some way. In other words, Louisiana has been able to fill its coffers by keeping thousands of African-American men behind bars.

And just what are Black men doing to get thrown in jail in Louisiana? Surely they’re all committing heinous, violent crimes, right? Not exactly. Consider the case of Roy Brown, the homeless Black man in Shreveport who asked a bank teller for $100 before running out of the bank. Feeling bad, Brown later came to return the money. Despite the fact that Brown obviously had a guilty heart and felt bad enough to return the money, a Louisiana judge gave him 15 years in jail.

To fully understand the depth of the problem, you really should read the paper’s exhaustive summary yourself. It will make you angry, for sure, but it will also make you smarter and aware of this truth: Oftentimes the worst guys aren’t the ones behind bars.


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(Photo: Scott Threlkeld/Times-Picayune/Landov)

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