Category: Louisiana

Judge frees Herman Wallace from prison

Herman Wallace, a man who spent the vast majority of his life in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola prison, will die in the free world.  You can get the backstory in this piece Andrew Cohen wrote for the Atlantic just a few days ago.  An excellent summary of the myriad legal issues involved in the case of the Angola 3 is also included with Mr. Cohen’s announcement below.  It is impossible to know how many days of freedom Herman will enjoy.  He is terminally ill and his loved ones were scheduled to visit him in his prison cell for final goodbyes.  Now this bitter-sweet meeting will be taking place somewhere in the free air Mr. Wallace was denied for the entirety of his adult life.  The big deal isn’t that Herman Wallace was denied a fair legal process, but that the legal system in Louisiana failed to correct an obvious problem when it had the chance. AGB

Judge Orders Angola 3’s Herman Wallace Released From Prison

Andrew Cohen

The Atlantic

U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson did a remarkably good and decent thing today — something that every judge should aspire to do in the right circumstances. He found a way to bring a small measure of justice to a man whose entire life had been rife with injustice. He found a way to order the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a terminally ill prisoner at the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana who spent 40 years in solitary confinement in a 6′ by 9′ cell for a murder there was no valid evidence he committed.

Last week, I wrote about this case here at The Atlantic because I felt it comprised so many of the failings of the American justice system. A black man whose trial is marked by racial animus. A defendant whose attorney does unconscionable work. A lack of physical evidence or adequate investigation. Co-defendants and state witnesses with obvious incentives to lie. Punishment that was both cruel and unusual. Deliberate indifference on the part of reviewing courts. It all happened to Herman Wallace. All of it and more; his case was a disgrace from the beginning. (more…)

Charles Blow: Plantations, Prisons and Profits

Charles Blow

By Alan Bean

If you really wanted to read the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s eight-part series on the state prison system, but only have time for one quick read, columnist Charles Blow has what you need: a quick summary of the high points. 

Here’s his conclusion:

Louisiana is the starkest, most glaring example of how our prison policies have failed. It showcases how private prisons do not serve the public interest and how the mass incarceration as a form of job creation is an abomination of justice and civility and creates a long-term crisis by trying to create a short-term solution.

As the paper put it: “A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.”

The T-P’s groundbreaking series provides a “thick description” of a deadly interplay between a tragic racial history, a shrinking agricultural economy and tax base, a paranoid electorate, underpaid and under-resourced sheriffs, and a craven political class.  This is the kind of description I attempted in my Taking out the trash in Tulia, Texas and it is great to see the mainstream media, even in these belt-tightening times, taking their responsibility, and their readers, this seriously.

Plantations, Prisons and Profits

By Charles Blow

“Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.”

That paragraph opens a devastating eight-part series published this month by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans about how the state’s largely private prison system profits from high incarceration rates and tough sentencing, and how many with the power to curtail the system actually have a financial incentive to perpetuate it. (more…)

How Louisiana achieved the world’s highest incarceration rate

By Alan Bean

The New Orleans Times-Picayune spent a full year answering a simple question: why does the state of Louisiana lock up more of its citizens than any other jurisdiction on the face of the earth. 

There are a number of answers to this question, but the big engine driving mass incarceration in Louisiana is money.  Back in the 1980s, with jails and prisons overcrowded and nowhere to place the overflow, legislators decided to sweeten the pot for the parish sheriffs who rule the Louisiana hinterland.  As a result, dozens of small communities are addicted to the incarceration business.  Over half of the state’s inmates are currently locked up in Parish institutions or facilities run by private prisons like LaSalle Corrections.  Consider this quick quote:

A drop in the incarceration rate could spell doom for both LaSalle Corrections and the sheriffs. The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association lobbies extensively on its members’ behalf and funds campaigns through a related political action committee. Private prison companies have the resources to be major political donors themselves. With strategically placed contributions, they can influence legislation as well as potentially steer inmates to their own prisons.

When thousands of public and private jobs depend on full prisons, the prisons will be full and God help anyone foolish enough to stand in the way.

The result is that Louisiana inmates doing three or four years for check fraud and first-offense drug crime are given virtually no vocational training while inmates doing life at state facilities like Angola learn valuable skills they will never be able to invest in the free world.

The Times-Picayune is to be commended for producing the kind of investigative reporting we rarely see these days.  You will find one of the leading articles below, but a wealth of information awaits in the section of their website dedicated to this topic.

North Louisiana family is a major force in the state’s vast prison industry

JONESBORO — Clay McConnell is an unlikely scion for a prison empire. An ordained minister, his curly brown hair is fashionably rumpled, and he gets flustered when speaking in front of a video camera. His father, Billy, is the brains behind LaSalle Corrections, the one who expanded the family business from senior citizens to criminals. (more…)

Rachel Tabachnick talks dominionism on Fresh Air (and why you should be paying attention)

By Alan Bean

Are Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann part of a movement determined to forcibly Christianize every aspect of American culture?

If so, why does a blog dedicated to ending mass incarceration care one way or the other?

If Rachel Tabachnick is anything to go by, the answer to the first question is ‘yes’.  Tabachnick knows more about the dominionist strain within contemporary evangelicalism than just about anybody and you simply must check out her recent interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air.)

I am still thinking through my answer to the “so what” question (and will have more to say on the subject as my thinking clarifies); but the rough outline of an answer came to me yesterday when a reporter asked me why Louisiana (unlike Texas and Mississippi) has done nothing to reform its criminal justice system.

The avuncular visage of Burl Cain sprang to mind.  Cain is slowly transforming the Angola prison plantation into a spiritual rehabilitation center.  Inmates (90% of them in for life) are repeatedly invited to get right with Jesus.  Life becomes a whole lot easier if they take the offer.

Then I thought of Ann Richards, the progressive Texas Governor who, during her ill-fated re-election campaign against George W. Bush, told the voters that she wanted to build more prisons so folks with addiction issues could get rehabilitated.

Burl Cain and his Louisiana fan club want to lock up more people every year so earnest evangelists can have a captive audience.

Friends of Justice works in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, three states that are gradually backing away from the punitive consensus that has controlled the American judicial system for more than three decades.  Texas was embarrassed into rethinking mass incarceration through a series of scandals: Tulia (the bizarre drug bust that gave birth to Friends of Justice), Hearne (the American Violet story), the Dallas Sheetrock scandal, the Houston crime lab, the Texas Youth Commission fiasco, an incredible string of DNA exonerations in Dallas County and Governor Perry’s botched attempt to silence the Texas Forensic Science Commission.  Thanks to a series of modest reforms, the Texas prison population has now plateaued in the 160,000 range (it was 40,000 in 1980) and will likely stay there for the foreseeable future.

Mississippi experienced a 3.5% drop in its prison population in a single year by deciding that inmates must only serve 25% of sentences before being eligible for parole (it had been 85%).

The old “lock ’em up” mentality is beginning to soften even in the state that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the free world.  Folks in Louisiana want to lock up as many people as possible out of a misdirected sense of compassion.  After all, isn’t it better to find Jesus in jail than to live an unregenerate life in the free world?  We don’t hate criminals in Louisiana; we just want what’s best for them.

This is precisely the kind of theocratic logic that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have embraced.  They want to Christianize the nation (by force if necessary) the way Burl Cain has Christianized the Angola plantation.  And if the liberals presently controlling Hollywood, the recording industry, the public school system, the evening news and the political life of the nation don’t want to be Christianized, that’s just too bad.  Michelle, Sarah, Rick et al are God’s anointed apostles.  At Angola, to oppose Burl Cain is to oppose God; the New Apostolic Reformation wants to extend this kind of thinking to every aspect of our national life.

Do the politicians currently feeding at the trough of radical religion really believe that the eclectic vitality of a diverse nation can be homogenized by the blood of the Lamb?  Maybe not.  But they want to push the political envelope as far in that direction as the public will allow.  In these strange times, it’s smart politics.

If you think I’m overstating the case, please read Ms. Tabachnick’s conversation with Terry Gross.

The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare

August 24, 2011 – TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. (more…)