Today the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the US Department of Justice, released figures showing that, as of December 31, 2007, nearly 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, giving the United States the largest incarcerated population in the world. Within the US, Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration, nearly five times that of the lowest state, Maine.
Louisiana continues to lock-up too many of elderly prisoners and too many people whose biggest problem is addiction. June, 2008 figures from the Louisiana Department of Corrections show that 13%of the prison population in Louisiana is over the age of 50. More than 30% of inmates were convicted of drug offenses. Louisiana also disproportionately incarcerates African-Americans, with more than 60% of the Louisiana prisoners being African-American.
"We are spending too much money keeping people in jail," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Other states have proven that there are more effective ways to treat the problem of crime at lower costs. These include parole/probation reforms, diversion programs, increasing good-time programs for people behind bars, and sentencing reforms for non-violent offenders (i.e. drug/mental health courts)." Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy remarked, in, 2003, that "our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long." Since he made those remarks, we have spent more money on incarceration, without achieving the reforms that Justice Kennedy called for five years ago.
Esman continued, "in the current budget crisis, we need to find ways to help those who can be helped, and reduce the costs to all of us associated with overincarceration. Policymakers need to make corrections reform a top priority because current policies are misguided and costing taxpayers too much money."