Is Louisiana really the "Prison Capital of the World?"  

Louisiana has a higher incarceration rate than any other state or nation in the world.   

Louisiana incarcerates at a rate of 873 (per 100,000 people), which is significantly higher than the national average of 716 (per 100,000).  When pre-trial detainees are counted, Louisiana's incarceration rate shoots up to a staggering 1,619 (per 100,000).  No other state or nation in the world even comes close to that number.  

One out of 87 adults are behind bars in Louisiana.

But Louisiana's inmates are mostly violent criminals, right?  

No, the majority of those incarcerated in the state are serving time for nonviolent drug and property offenses.

In 2013, only 41.5% of inmates were serving sentences for violent crimes.  Additionally, Louisiana has more prisoners serving life without parole than any other state.  

What does marijuana have to do with it? 

Louisiana has the harshest marijuana policies in the country:  

  • Possession of any amount (first offense) is a misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in jail.

  • Possession of any amount (second offense) is a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

  • Possession of any amount (third or subsequent offense) is a felony, punishably by up to 20 years in prison.

Nearly one out of 14 arrests in Louisiana are for marijuana possession.  The average sentence for marijuana possession is eight years.  

Are Louisiana's marijuana laws unusual?  

While states around the country have reformed marijuana laws, reducing possession charges to misdemeanor offenses, Louisiana remains resistant.  In 2004, Mississippi reduced all first and subsequent marijuana possession charges to a misdemeanor offense.  Almost all Southern states, including South Carolina, Texas and Georgia, have followed suit.  Louisiana stands alone in both the South and in the nation as a state that clings to the idea of marijuana possession as a felony complete with sentences typically reserved for violent crime. 

How much do current laws cost taxpayers?

Louisiana's big prisons mean big costs to the taxpayers:  

  • An inmate costs the state approximately $18,170 a year, $363,440 for a 20 year sentence, and upwards of $1 million for a life sentence.  

  • In 2012, Louisiana spent $730 million on its 40,172 inmates. 

Louisiana's correction expenditures per capita have been significantly higher than the majority of its neighboring states for over 20 years.

How would marijuana reform save taxpayers money?

In 2010, Louisiana spent $46 million enforcing marijuana possession laws.  One simple change -- reducing marijuana possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors -- would save the state approximately $23 million per year in corrections-related expenditures.  

 

Sources:  The Times-Picayune, The Reason Foundation, Bureau of Justice Statistics, International Centre for Prison Studies