Caddo Parish’s Sheriff Steve Prator has been under fire for the past two weeks after he rather bluntly made the case for slavery, all the while unwittingly exposing the fact that Louisiana – the state with an incarceration rate and population so huge that it’s “more than five times higher than most countries in the world” – is still in every sense a slave state. Here is what Prator said during a press conference in reference to Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Act that will see the early release of thousands of nonviolent offenders from Louisiana’s massive penal system:
The [prisoners] that you can work, the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs – but guess what? Those are the ones they’re releasing! In addition to the bad ones – and I call these bad – in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money. Well, they’re going to let them out.
Unlike Calcasieu Parish D.A. John DeRosier, who falsely claims that inmates convicted of violent and/or sex crimes are being released, Prator is making the argument that (in his own words) ‘good’ people should be kept imprisoned so that free labor is at the disposal of both the state and private companies. Seeing as this is indeed Caddo Parish, this should come as little surprise. According to the New York Times,
Caddo Parish has a long history of racial discrimination in its criminal justice system and beyond. More people have been sentenced to death per capita there than in any other county in the United States; close to 80 percent of those executed have been black… between 1988 and 2008, the Caddo district attorney had sought death as punishment in 84 percent of black-on-white homicides and only 24 percent of other homicides.
Unfortunately the Sheriff is only exposing the true history of the massive incarceration system and how it came to be across not just the South but the nation at large – through a practice that really emerged after the Civil War as a means of getting around the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, a practice known as convict-leasing. It was a penal system that was created primarily through selective enforcement of certain minor infractions such as vagrancy and unemployment that allowed law enforcement to target Black men for arrest and then sentence them to forced labor for extended periods of time, an ordeal many of them did not survive. The horrors of this system are written about in great detail in Douglas A. Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name. Without convict-lease, the Angola slave plantation would not have so easily transformed from a slave plantation to the Angola prison that exists today. Thanks to the actions of aggressive and soulless District Attorneys such as the Orleans Parish D.A. Leon Cannizzaro who use their positions to intimidate and threaten witnesses into doing what they say, and to throw people in prison for 13 years to life for pot possession, that system of enslavement continues to thrive in the present.