Louisiana’s prison system has the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the United States—589 per 100,000 residents in 2020—and nearly double the percentage of people serving life sentences compared to neighboring states, a study from Loyola University New Orleans, commissioned by the D.C.-based Public Welfare Foundation (PWF), finds.

The two-part report, Louisiana Justice: Pre-Trial, Incarceration, and Reentry (72 pages, PDF), and Opportunities for Philanthropy within Louisiana’s Justice System (28 pages, PDF), highlights the state’s unique position in American criminal justice, detailing how race and the lack of economic power negatively define the ways defendants navigate the state’s criminal justice system, while offering insights for improving philanthropic engagement with affected communities and state institutions.

According to the study, Louisiana’s prison population has more than doubled in the last 30 years. The resulting disproportionately high incarceration rate in the state is a function of several variables, including excessively long sentences, limited releases through parole, and multi-billing practices in several parishes that substantially penalize repeat offenders. In line with national averages, incarcerated Black people in Louisiana outnumber incarcerated whites by a ratio of four to one. Prisoners serving time for crimes they committed before their 25th birthday account for more than one third of prisoners, with 5.6 percent incarcerated for crimes they committed under the age of 18. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. that extensively uses local jails (instead of state prisons) to house people convicted of state crimes, and primarily funds its public defense system through the imposition of fines, fees, traffic tickets, and revenue from fees levied for pleading guilty before trial.

Read the full article about Louisiana's prison population at Philanthropy News Digest.