"Louisiana INCarcerated" wins June Sidney Award | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

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"Louisiana INCarcerated" wins June Sidney Award

Louisiana locks up more people than any other state, nearly twice the national average. If it were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate in the world. One in 86 Louisianans is behind bars, and one in every 14 black men from New Orleans is serving time.

Cindy Chang, Jan Moller, Jonathan Tilove, and John Simerman of the New Orleans Times-Picayune set out to explain why their state locks up so many people. Their Sidney-Award-winning series, Louisiana INCarcerated, explores the powerful institutional forces that interact to keep incarceration levels sky high. Louisiana is the only state where local sheriffs build and run prisons for profit.

The state pays the sheriffs a per diem of $24.39 per prisoner, a fraction of what it spends to house prisoners in state facilities. The prisons provide jobs for the sheriffs’ constituents and their revenues fund local law enforcement. Not surprisingly, the sheriffs lobby fiercely for longer sentences. Without a steady influx of prisoners, their prisons will lose money.

This series paints an unflinching portrait of a justice system corrupted by the pursuit of profit.

Louisiana INCarcerated may be a swan song for The Times-Picayune, which announced yesterday that it wll be laying off a third of its workforce. The paper will soon cut back to three print editions a week, making New Orleans the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper.

“The prison series was only possible because the newspaper invested tremendous time and resources,” special projects reporter Cindy Chang said, “Of course, we’re concerned that with major staff cuts and an emphasis on constant blogging, this may be our last project.”

[Photo credit: Editor B, Creative Commons.]