South Carolina and Kentucky offer solutions for trimming Louisiana’s worldwide leading incarceration rate, Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson said Tuesday.
“I rarely make a speech these days without talking about mass incarceration,” Johnson told a joint session of the Legislature gathered for the annual State of the Judiciary address.
Johnson, the first black chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, noted the United States leads the world in prison lockups, and Louisiana leads the nation in that same category.
“We lock up more people than Iran, 13 times more than China, 20 times more than Germany,” she said. “I guess it wouldn’t matter, except that it costs us money.”
The chief justice said one in 86 adults in the state is behind bars, nearly twice the national average.
Johnson told lawmakers that, during a conference last May, the former president of the American Bar Association led a discussion on finding alternatives to jailings.
She said the group was told South Carolina has enacted legislation that has begun to trim the prison population while also influencing a reduction in violent crime.
“The legislative reforms are estimated to save the state of South Carolina $350 million,” she said.
Johnson, a native of Donaldsonville, said the judiciary recently sent a team to Kentucky to review that state’s pre-trial services.
She said pre-trial detainees account for more than 60 percent of the U.S. inmate population at a cost of $9 billion.
“I believe that comprehensive solutions to Louisiana’s over-incarceration must include statewide pre-trial services, and there are models available to us,” Johnson said.
She said it is no coincidence the state is a leader in both poverty and prison populations.
“Maybe there is a connection there,” Johnson said.