While Louisiana lawmakers are wrestling with legislation to help the state get control of its worst-in-the-world incarceration rate, they also will be considering a proposal that would represent a big step backward by looking at privatizing more of the state’s prisons, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune in an editorial. A resolution from Rep. Jack McFarland commission a study of expanded prison privatization, an option not embraced by those seeking to overhaul the state’s sentencing practices and reduce prison populations through “smart on crime” initiatives. Two of the state’s prisons are already privately operated; McFarland’s would require looking at privatizing five more, all except the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.
The proposal is wrongheaded and shortsighted on several fronts, the newspaper says, writing, “There is little reason to think there will be any savings except at the cost of safety and effectiveness, creating long-term and even more expensive problems … Motivated to turn a profit, private prisons pay their officers less, provide fewer hours of training and have higher inmate-to-staff ratios, a combination that often results in more inmate assaults.” The editorial added that , “The right to punish and rehabilitate belong to the state and shouldn’t be administered based on a profit motive. Changes recommended by the Justice Reinvestment Task Force would save the state an estimated $305 million over 10 years. The idea is to reinvest roughly half of that — $154 million — back into programs to reduce recidivism and provide assistance to victims. That is the best option for saving money, not increasing privatization, says the Times-Picayune.