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SPLC Action Fund, How Southern States Struggle With Long-Term Incarceration, 2021

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LONG ROAD
TO NOWHERE
How Southern States Struggle
with Long-Term Incarceration
February 2021

SPLC IACTION @

About the SPLC Action Fund

The SPLC Action Fund is a catalyst for racial justice in
the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities
to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional
movements, and advance the human rights of all people.

For more information about

THE SPLC ACTION FUND
www.splcactionfund.org
© 2021 Southern Poverty Law Center

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2

LONG ROAD
TO NOWHERE
How Southern States Struggle
with Long-Term Incarceration
February 2021

“The nature of the criminal justice system
has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment
of crime, but rather with the management
and control of the dispossessed.”
—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

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4

INTRODUCTION
The Deep South is the epicenter of mass incarceration. The United States incarcerates
more people per capita than any other country, with prison populations growing by 86%
between 1990 and 2019. For Southern states,
prison populations exploded by 127% during
that same period.1 During this time in history, America implemented “tough on crime”
policies that responded to public health issues like the drug epidemic with incarceration instead of rehabilitation. Laws for even
nonviolent crimes became more punitive
with longer sentences, and people of color
were disproportionately pushed into prisons with little hope for parole.
Today, incarceration rates for Latinx and
Black people are more than two and five
times the incarceration rate of whites, respectively.2 The commitment to the “tough
on crime” narrative led to significantly overcrowded prisons, which not only put a strain
on state budgets, but also created human
rights challenges regarding how to maintain
a safe and healthy prison environment.
Three Southern states in particular — Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana — exemplify
how prison populations have grown to be
problematic in three unique ways. Alabama
is home to the most overcrowded prisons in
the country, currently at 151% of capacity.3
Alabama’s prison crisis has drawn attention
from U.S. Department of Justice investigations twice within a 15-month period, and
led to a recent lawsuit concerned with how
severely overcrowded prisons contribute to
unsafe, unsanitary, and increasingly violent
conditions.4 Even after sentencing reforms
were passed in 2017, recent legislation concerning the Alabama Board of Pardons and
Paroles has severely diminished the parole
chances of currently incarcerated people.
Florida, with over 95,000 imprisoned
people, has the third-largest prison population of any state in the country, behind only

SPLC ACTION FUND // LONG ROAD TO NOWHERE

Texas and California. However, unlike California and Texas, Florida still adheres to a
“Truth in Sentencing” rule requiring incarcerated people to serve at least 85% of their
sentences, regardless of any demonstration
of rehabilitation. Florida’s abolishment of
parole for crimes after October 1983 also
makes it nearly impossible to decarcerate
in the manner of other states. As a result,
Florida has grown to have the oldest prison
population in the South, a group whose care
is increasingly expensive.
Louisiana, on the other hand, has been
known as the “incarceration capital of the
world” for consistently having incredibly
high incarceration rates. A large factor is
the number of people serving life sentences
without the possibility of parole, including
juveniles. Life-without-parole sentencing, or
“LWOP,” has permanently locked over 4,500
people in Louisiana’s prisons, with an additional 1,300 serving “virtual life” sentences
of more than 50 years — altogether making
up one of every five incarcerated people in
the state. Louisiana currently holds more
people with LWOP sentences than Alabama,
Georgia, New York, and Texas combined.
The lack of early prison release is just one
of many contributors to mass incarceration
in the South — an issue that presents itself
in varying ways across the states. Likewise,
the solutions also vary — from expanding
parole eligibility and making it retroactive,
to increasing incentives for rehabilitation
credits, to recalibrating triggers for LWOP
sentences. A sensible approach to decarceration in the South would not only make
prisons safer and less expensive, but would
also create opportunities to reinvest savings
in other priorities. This report will investigate the impact that overincarceration has
had in three Southern states, and provide
recommendations on how each state can
address the issue through policy change.

5

ALABAMA
America’s Most Overcrowded Prisons
Background
In January 2015, the Alabama Department
of Corrections (ADOC) packed 24,770 incarcerated men and women into a prison
system designed for only 13,318 — 186% of
capacity.5 Such overcrowding created problems with public health and prison safety
that drew scrutiny from multiple fronts,
including litigation over insufficient medical and health care, and two Department
of Justice reports finding widespread violence and abuse.6 In April 2015, a prison revolt at the St. Clair Correctional Facility left
15 people injured, following a year where
the Equal Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit
claiming detainment at St. Clair was akin to
cruel and unusual punishment.7 In December 2020, the Department of Justice also
filed a lawsuit claiming that Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prison conditions
are unconstitutional.8
Parole Applications Granted in Alabama

The risks of severely overcrowded prisons
are well-documented, especially regarding
increased suicide attempts, violence between
incarcerated people, and violence toward
staff.9 However, when starting at 186% of capacity, Alabama did not have the financial
resources to simply build its way out of the
overcrowding with new prison construction.
After deliberation from former Gov. Robert
Bentley’s task force charged with researching
solutions, decarceration became as much of a
necessity as building new prison space. As a
result, Alabama passed SB 67, a reform measure that reclassified sentencing for some
nonviolent offenses and added efficiencies to
the state parole board.10 From 2016 to 2018,
the first two years of SB 67’s enactment, the
state in-house prison population decreased
by over 3,200 people — a 13% decline.11
However, in 2019 the Legislature passed
HB 380, allowing the governor to appoint a

Figure 1

Paroles Granted

Parole Applications

60%

4,500
54.2%

4,000
3,500

53.3%

50%

48.1%

3,000
40%
2,500
31.3%

2,000

30%

1,500
19.5%

1,000
500
0

3,108

-

FY 14-15

3,847

3,732

1,337

FY 15-16

FY 16-17

FY 17-18

Paroles Granted

20%

518

FY 18-19

10%

% of Parole Applications

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6

director over the Alabama Bureau of Pardons
and Paroles (ABPP), requiring more time
served before parole eligibility, and establishing strict protocols for any early release consideration12 — all preceded by the governor’s
declaration of a 75-day moratorium on parole
releases.13 The passage of HB 380 ushered in
tighter scrutiny of the ABPP under Gov. Kay
Ivey’s first appointed parole board director,
Charles Graddick — making it rarer for parole
hearings to be held at all, much less for parole
to be granted. Graddick, a former Alabama attorney general who became notorious for his
tough-on-crime rhetoric, instituted an additional two-month parole moratorium immediately upon taking office.14
Consequently, parole grants went from
3,732 in FY 2017-18 (53.3% of applicants),
to only 518 in FY 2019-20 (19.5% of applicants).15 Far fewer paroles were granted,
even for elderly people, who are most vulnerable in the coronavirus pandemic, and
least likely to pose a public safety threat.16
At the same time, the few people granted
parole were more than twice as likely to be
white as Black, making the already stark racial disparities of Alabama’s prisons even
more pronounced.17 With a halt on paroles,
Alabama’s prison population increased for
the first time in six years as the rest of the
nation was trending downward.18

Scope of the Problem
With Alabama’s prison population now on
an upward trajectory, the problem of prison overcrowding resurfaces as a major concern. In March 2018, ADOC had to close the
Draper Correctional Facility, which had aged
beyond repair, raising environmental and
safety concerns. In January 2020, the department announced plans to close an additional
1,010 beds at the Holman Correctional Facility — further decreasing available prison
space. Overcrowding is exacerbated during
the coronavirus pandemic, as it is impossible
to socially distance in such confined spaces.
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Difference in ADOC Prison Admissions vs. Releases
Figure 2

Number of Prison Admissions Minus Prison Releases
-600 -500 -400 -300 -200 -100 0

JAN 2018
FEB 2018
MAR 2018
APR 2018
MAY 2018
JUN 2018
JUL 2018
AUG 2018
SEP 2018
(Parole moratorium) OCT 2018
NOV 2018
DEC 2018
JAN 2019
FEB 2019
MAR 2019
APR 2019
MAY 2019
JUN 2019
JUL 2019
AUG 2019
(HB 380 enacted) SEP 2019
OCT 2019
NOV 2019
DEC 2019
JAN 2020
FEB 2020
(COVID-19 closes courts) MAR 2020
APR 2020
MAY 2020
JUN 2020
JUL 2020
AUG 2020

100 200 300

-104
-213
-58
-263
54
-72
19
-29
-59
167
107
91
2
172
62
163
175
79
129
203
108
147
-13
65
170
95
-274
-458
-324
-566
-435
-468

In response to overcrowding issues and
dilapidated facilities, Gov. Ivey proposed
to build three new privately constructed
men’s prisons in 2021, providing around an
additional 10,000 beds to be leased to the
state, costing $2.6 billion over 30 years.19
Afterwards, ADOC would then lose beds
by eventually decommissioning and/or
repurposing its older facilities as early as
2023.20 Though it is not yet known which
facilities would be closed, Alabama would
lose over 4,400 beds if it were to close its
three oldest men’s prisons in addition to
Holman, including Fountain Correctional
Facility (built in 1955), Kilby Correction-

7

Projected Alabama Prison Overcapacity

Figure 3

Starting Bed
Capacity

New Bed
Construction

De-commissioned Beds

Bed
Capacity at
Year End

Estimated
Prison
Population
at Year End

% of
Capacity

Year 1 (2021) — ADOC
builds first new facility,
closes Holman Correctional Facility

12,412

960

1,010

15,362

19,113

124%

Year 2 (2022) — ADOC
builds second new
facility

15,362

3,072

0

18,434

20,469

111%

Year 3 (2023) — ADOC
builds third new facility,
closes Fountain Correctional Facility

18,434

18,434

1,613

19,893

21,826

110%

Year 4 (2024) — ADOC
closes Kilby Correctional Facility

19,893

0

1,421

18,472

23,183

126%

Year 5 (2025) — ADOC
closes Staton Correctional Facility

18,472

0

1,376

17,096

24,539

144%

Year 6 (2026)

17,096

0

0

17,096

25,896

151%

al Facility (1969), and Staton Correctional
Facility (1978).
Before the pandemic closed the state
court system, leading to a sharp decline in
convictions and prison admissions, ADOC
was averaging 113 more admissions than
releases per month since Gov. Ivey’s parole
moratorium. Once the courts resume their
normal caseloads, we can expect prison admissions to return to normal levels as well
— especially considering the case backlog
caused by the pandemic.
Without a plan for decarceration, even
if Alabama spends over $2.6 billion to construct and lease 10,000 new prison beds,
the state could return to its current rate of
overcapacity (151% as of August 2020) only
three years after the new prisons are built.

Possible Solutions
Alabama cannot build its way out of prison overcrowding. Without revitalizing the
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possibility of parole release, new prison
construction will only be a temporary and
unsustainable solution — entirely too expensive for any benefit it would yield. Alabama’s prison system must address the core
issue that it admits more prisoners than it
releases. The ABPP’s new director, Cam
Ward, who started in December 2020, provides an opportunity to change the trajectory from past leadership.
Before HB 380 was enacted, the state
had broader consideration for parole release. People who were elderly, infirm, or
had served at least 20 years of a sentence
for crimes other than rape and murder had
a greater likelihood of release. Studies have
shown that the older an incarcerated person
is, the less likely that person is to reoffend
with violent crime after release.21 Likewise,
it is not proven that longer prison sentences
are a strong deterrent to violent crime.22

8

During the pandemic, local advocates
stressed the need for releasing medically
fragile, older adults and children to ease
the spread of coronavirus in overcrowded
prison spaces.23 For infirm people especially, there is also potential for decarcerating
through expanding the possibility of medical furlough and parole. Alabama could
widen the medical criteria eligible for furlough, and potentially widen the eligible
parties that could initiate the medical furlough process. As of December 2020, there
have been 54 deaths among Alabama’s
prison population due to COVID-19 alone,
along with 1,164 people testing positive for
the virus.24 However, there are only 13 people currently on medical furlough from facilities already deemed unsanitary by the
U.S. Justice Department.25
If Alabama were to repeal HB 380 and
retroactively reinstate pre-legislation parole considerations, this would immedi-

ately impact over 2,829 incarcerated people currently in ADOC custody.26 With the
current ADOC incarceration cost of $64.01
per person per day, the state could save $66
million over the course of a year if all parole-eligible people were released.27
Also significant is that if 2,829 people
were released on parole, Alabama prisons would drop from 151% of capacity to
128% of capacity — ranking seventh in the
country instead of first.28 ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn and Ward, the ABPP director, should ensure full compliance with
the state’s medical furlough and medical
parole policies, and seek expansion of
the policies’ eligibility wherever possible.
Over time, restoring and expanding parole
would be a less expensive and much more
sustainable solution to prison overcrowding than building new prisons that do not
address the underlying issues of mass incarceration.

Number of Potentially Parole-Eligible People and Cost Savings

Figure 4

Incarcerated People in ADOC Custody Number of People Incarcerated

Cost Savings for One Year

Category 1: People age 60+

2,165

$50.6 million

Category 2: People below age 60
who have served at least 20 years for
offenses other than rape or murder

645

$15.1 million

Category 3: Juveniles age 18-19, not
included in Categories 1 or 2

13

$303,727

Category 4: Infirm people on medical
furlough, not included in Categories
1 or 2

6

$140,182

Total Impact

2,829 people

$66.1 million

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9

FLORIDA

The South’s Oldest Prison Population
behavior, or taking advantage of rehabilitation and educational programs.
Florida’s Truth in Sentencing law, or
“85% Rule,” has created an increasingly older prison population that is more expensive
to detain, even though longer prison stays
are no guarantee to deter crime,29 and people typically are less likely to recidivate with
violent crimes they older they get.30 Placing
a cap on the amount of gain time removes incentive to participate in activities designed
to reduce recidivism, such as educational and
vocational programs. Additionally, Truth in
Sentencing makes it increasingly difficult for
Florida to decarcerate its prisons. Even with
prison admission rates declining 22.2% over
the last decade, the size of Florida’s prison
population has remained stagnant — only
falling 6.5% during that same period.

Background
The 1994 federal crime bill set a national precedent for longer prison sentences, including “Truth in Sentencing” laws
mandating that people serve a large majority of their prison time. States across
the country were incentivized to toughen
their sentencing standards with federal
funding to build prisons and strengthen law enforcement. Florida’s version of
Truth in Sentencing, however, stands out
as particularly harsh considering that it
requires incarcerated people to serve at
least 85% of their sentence, regardless of
the offense’s severity. So even for nonviolent convictions, there is no possibility
to gain parole eligibility, or reduce the
sentence below 85% with “gain time” —
credit incentives for demonstrating good

Percentage of Prison Population at Least 50 Years Old (FY 2019)

25

25%

--22.7%

20

22.7%

22%

- 21.3%

20.6%

-

19.6%

Figure 5

-

18.1%

15

10

5

0

I

FL

TX

LA

SC

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AL

GA

TN

MS

10

Florida’s Daily Prison Costs Per Person,
with Percentage of Costs Coming from Health Care

Figure 6

25%

$70
24.4%

24%

$60
23.7%

23%

$50
$40

22%

22.2%

21%

$30
$20
$10
$0

20.6%

20.6%

20%
19%

$51.65

-

FY 14-15

$53.49

$55.80

$59.57

$62.16

FY 15-16

FY 16-17

FY 17-18

FY 18-19

Average Daily Prison Cost Per Person

Health Care % of Daily Cost

Scope of the Problem
Even compared to other Southern states with
larger prison populations (Texas), or higher
incarceration rates (Louisiana), Florida stands
out as having the oldest prison population in
the South, with a quarter of them over the age
of 50. By comparison, people at least 50 years
old made up only 7.9% of Florida’s prison population in 2000.31 According to the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) FY 2019 annual report, “The average inmate is now over
40 years old, versus 32 years in 1996. Though
the projection for growth of the total inmate
population is relatively flat over the next five
years, the elderly population is expected to
increase from 25% of the total population to
29.8% during that same five-year period.” This
projection would amount to over 28,700 elderly people in FDOC by 2024, more than the entire prison population of Alabama.
Older people in prison present an additional strain on state budgets, primarily
from increased health care costs. Bureau of
Justice statistics find that incarcerated elderly people are more susceptible to chronic illness, as they may come to prison with a
history of substance abuse and lack of suffiSPLC ACTION FUND // LONG ROAD TO NOWHERE

18%

cient health care.32 In FDOC for FY 2018-19,
49% of all chronic illness clinic enrollments,
49% of impairment gradings, and 52% of assigned assistive devices went to people age
50 and up.33
By extension, the cost of medical care
for infirm elderly people in prison becomes two to three times the cost of all
other incarcerated people on average.34 In
FY 2018-19, elderly people made up 58% of
all outpatient events, 54% of all hospital
admissions, and 64% of all inpatient hosProjected Savings from Gain
Time Reform over Five Years
Figure 7

Cumulative
Number of
Prison Beds
Saved

Annual Prison
Costs Saved
(in millions)

Year 1

7,596

$74.0

Year 2

8,833

$174.2

Year 3

9,121

$186.8

Year 4

9,209

$210.0

Year 5

9,209

$215.4

Total

9,209

$860.4

11

pital days.35 These costs are also reflected
in a current 20% increase in FDOC’s daily
cost per person over the last five years, as
well as a larger portion of that cost coming
from health care expenses.
Once the coronavirus pandemic is over,
Florida’s prison population is projected
to slowly increase by at least 1,100 people
over the next five fiscal years, according
to the Florida Criminal Justice Estimating Conference.36 A lack of opportunity
for early release not only grows the prison
population, but also the financial commitment necessary to detain prisoners. At the
daily cost of $62.16 to incarcerate one person in FDOC, Florida will pay nearly $25
million a year just to incarcerate the additional 1,100 people.

Possible Solutions
Florida’s prison population will continue
to age and cost taxpayers more if opportunities for prison release are not expanded.
Before Truth in Sentencing was enacted,
“gain time” credits could accumulate to
significantly reduce a person’s prison sentence. Currently, good behavior can reduce
a sentence 10 days per month, while exemplary deeds or completion of a prison program aimed at anti-recidivism can merit a
one-time award of up to 60 days.37 However,
any earned credits that would reduce a sentence beyond 15% would have no further
benefit towards sentence reduction.
Several reform proposals have been put
forth in recent years, including an outright
repeal of Truth in Sentencing. Other proposals sought to at least expand the impact
of gain time credits, such as:
• i ncreasing credit for good behavior
from 10 to 20 days per month,
• a llowing good time credits to reduce a
prison sentence from 15% to 35%, and
• a pplying these changes retroactively
to everyone currently incarcerated
with a nonviolent felony conviction.
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The Florida Criminal Justice Estimating
Conference estimated that retroactive gain
time reform for people with nonviolent felonies would have saved the state more than
$860 million over the course of five years
and reduced the prison population by more
than 9,200 people.38
Likewise, consideration for parole eligibility with people age 50 and over would
provide even more significant cost savings.
While retroactively expanding gain time
for people with nonviolent offenses would
be helpful for all age groups in Florida, the
older prison population is disproportionately serving time for violent offenses —
65% of people over 50 compared to 56% of
the overall prison population. Research has
consistently shown that older incarcerated
people are less like to commit crimes. Even
people convicted of violent crimes are not
likely to commit violent crimes again by the
time they are 50. On average, only around
one in six older parolees return to prison
within three years, with the majority of
those recidivations stemming from minor
parole violations.39
While providing parole eligibility to
the 8,380 incarcerated people over age 50
with nonviolent offenses would provide
an additional $190 million in annual savings to FDOC, providing parole eligibility to the entire incarcerated population
over 50 (23,946 people), could save FDOC
$543 million annually.40 With state prisons
approaching 100% capacity (currently at
94%), different opportunities for early release must be considered to avoid projected
population increases that would put a dire
strain on state resources.41

12

LOUISIANA

The Highest Incarceration Rate in America
Months after the laws passed, Louisiana celebrated shedding the “incarceration capital” title, passing it on to Oklahoma.44 However, while passing bipartisan
legislation was a historic step forward, it
did not address the topic of life without
parole (LWOP) sentences. Louisiana abolished the possibility of parole for anyone
sentenced to life in 1979, removing any discretion from judges, juries, or the state parole board. Currently, Louisiana has 4,557
people in prison serving LWOP sentences
— one in six people held in state custody.45
Erasing the possibility of parole for
such a significant portion of the prison
rosters creates a crippling obstacle to decarceration, even with recent reforms. As
a result, Louisiana’s recent success was
short-lived, as it regained the top incarceration rate ranking the following year.

Background
Louisiana, for many years, has worn the
crown of “incarceration capital of the
world” by having the highest imprisonment rates in the U.S, and by extension
the world, given that the U.S. incarcerates
more people per capita than any other
country. As of 2019, Louisiana incarcerated 887 people per 100,000 state residents, with Oklahoma ranking second at
840 per 100,000 people.42 The state’s incarceration rates remain high even after
implementing a package of criminal justice reform legislation in 2017. The new
laws were designed to “steer less serious
offenders away from prison, strengthen alternatives to imprisonment, reduce
prison terms for those that can be safely
supervised in the community, and remove
barriers to successful re-entry.”43

1,200
Louisiana vs. Oklahoma Adult Incarceration Rates

Figure 8

1,114

0

0
0

1,072

0

..

S!

a,
C.
a,

1,019

Q.

997

~ 1,000

"C

~

940
948

~

937

928

~

Oklahoma
914

931
887

.5
908
Louisiana

873

840

800

2013

2014

2015

2016

Oklahoma Incarceration Rate

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2017

2018

2019

Louisiana Incarceration Rate

13

Louisiana's Life Without Parole Population vs. Other States

Louisiana
LWOP
Population

Figure 9

LA 4,557

Other LWOP
Populations
Combined

GA 1,579

0

1,000

AL 1,355

2,000

Scope of the Problem
The 4,557 people serving LWOP in Louisiana as of November 2020 is more than
the latest reporting of people serving
LWOP in Alabama, Georgia, New York,
and Texas combined.46 This does not include the additional 1,377 people who are
serving “virtual life” sentences of over 50
years. If including people with virtual life
sentences, one out of every five people in
Louisiana prison custody has been sentenced enough prison time to ensure they
will die behind bars.
Similar to Florida’s gain time restrictions, Louisiana’s lengthy sentences lock
people in prison without regard to their
ability to rehabilitate or successfully
re-enter society. The average age of incarcerated people in Louisiana is 40 years
old, with almost one-fourth (23.7%) over
the age of 50 as of November 2020. For
people with LWOP sentences, the average
age is 50 years old, with over half (51.4%)
more than 50 years old.47
Historically, the majority of all people
sentenced to LWOP in Louisiana have
been convicted of second-degree mur-

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TX 1,245

3,000

NY 291

4,000

5,000

der, which sentences a getaway driver
the same as the person pulling the trigger.48 Second-degree murder charges
potentially criminalize nonviolent activity as a seriously violent offense. Prosecutors have taken advantage of this
legal distinction to garner convictions
without having to establish intent, negLouisiana Life Without Parole Offenses

Figure 10

Armed
Aggravated Robbery
Kidnapping 1.8%
All Other
2.9%
Offenses 6.8%

First-Degree
Murder 16.2%

Second-Degree
Murder 52.9%

Aggravated
Rape
19.4%

14

Estimated Impact of Louisiana Parole Eligibility

Figure 11

Number of
People Impacted by
Parole Reform

Average Age

Annual Savings

People with LWOP Sentences
and Served 30+ Years

1,002

63

$19,314,201

People with Virtual Life Sentences of 50+ Years and Served
20+ Years

388

52

$7,478,952

People Sentenced to LWOP
as Juveniles

431

45

$8,307,805

Totals

1,821

56

$35,100,958

ligence, or malice. Louisiana is one of
only a few states in the country that gives
LWOP sentences for second-degree
murder convictions. Analyzing a recent
roster of Louisiana prisons reveals that
second-degree murder still makes up
the vast majority of LWOP sentences, at
52.9%, while first-degree murder makes
up only 16.2% of LWOP convictions.49
Also, of those serving LWOP sentences, 431 people were admitted to prison
before the age of 20, with 109 of them
admitted before the age of 18.50 Today,
these people are 45 years old on average.
Incarceration before the age of 20 essentially eliminates any chance of redemption before reaching adulthood. Many
studies have confirmed that the parts of
the human brain responsible for rational
judgment, impulse control, and longterm decisions do not finish developing
until a person’s mid-20s.51 However, our
legal system does not always take immaturity and youthful impulsiveness into
account when it comes to criminal sentencing. Juvenile life sentences automatically dispose of a young person’s future,
and at great financial cost to the state
— which spends over $1 million for each
youth sentenced to LWOP in Louisiana.52

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Possible Solutions
During 2017 legislative deliberations,
lawmakers considered parole eligibility for anyone serving at least 30 years
who was at least 50 years old, excluding
those convicted of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors opposed this with concerns
of jeopardizing public safety. Since then,
community advocates have pushed for
parole eligibility for anyone with a life
sentence who has served at least 30
years, and people with sentences of 50
years or more who have already served
20 years.53 Additionally, parole consideration for juveniles with life sentences allows youth a chance at redemption while
saving millions of taxpayer dollars.
These recommendations rely on the
belief that expanding parole eligibility
does not come at a risk to public safety.
People who have already served decades
of their LWOP or virtual life sentence,
or were admitted as juveniles, are now
an average of 56 years old. A 56-year-old
person has statistically aged out of violent criminal activity, and is much less
likely to reoffend.
Expanding parole eligibility for people with LWOP sentences, sentences of
50-plus years, and juveniles would impact

15

Estimated Changes in Incarceration Rate Rankings

Before Louisiana Parole Reform

Figure 12

After Louisiana Parole Reform

State Adult Prison
Estimated
Population, Population Incarcetion
Age 18+
(Fall 2020) Rate per
100,000
Adults

U.S.
Rank

Prison
Population

Estimated
Incarceration
Rate per
100,000 Adults

U.S.
Rank

Louisiana

3,560,976

27,114

761

1

25,293

710

4

Mississippi

2,276,754

17,297

760

2

17,297

760

1

Oklahoma

3,003,341

21,734

724

3

21,734

724

2

Arkansas

2,317,673

16,506

712

4

16,506

712

3

Arizona

5,641,006

38,394

681

5

38,394

681

5

an estimated 1,821 people currently incarcerated in Louisiana prisons. Release for
these individuals would save the state over
$35.1 million per year that could be used to
reinvest in anti-recidivism initiatives and
re-entry support, and even slightly narrow
the racial disparity within Louisiana’s prison population.54
Also notable is that an emphasis on parole release would play a significant role
in shedding Louisiana’s title of “incarceration capital.” Decarcerating state prisons
by over 1,800 people would drop Louisiana
from a first-place ranking to a fourth-place
ranking, behind Mississippi, Oklahoma,
and Arkansas.

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16

CONCLUSION
While prison overcrowding and overincarceration are heightened in Alabama, Florida,
and Louisiana, the problem is not unique to
these three states. The Deep South has an opportunity to set an example for other Southern states, and for the rest of the country,
regarding how to implement solutions that
save taxpayer dollars and protect human
rights without jeopardizing public safety.
For Alabama, expanding parole eligibility would not only benefit incarcerated
people in unsafe prisons, but also address
age-old concerns about prison costs and
capacity. For Florida, expanding the utility
of gain time credits would not only serve an
immediate benefit for older incarcerated
people, but would save hundreds of millions of dollars in prison expenses. For Lou-

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isiana, re-envisioning life without parole
sentencing would not only speak to people
who have been over-sentenced for years,
but also could be the solution that helps the
state shed the infamous title of “incarceration capital of the world.”
These are solutions that not only require
political will, but also show value towards
communities directly impacted by mass incarceration. The South has already proven
that throwing money at bigger prisons and
longer sentences is not a sustainable plan.
Today, a commitment to decarceration is a
necessity for progress.

17

ENDNOTES
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners Series, U.S. Department of Justice. Southern states for this calculation
include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee,
Texas, and Virginia.
2 Carson, Ann E., Prisoners in 2019, U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oct. 2020. https://
www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p19.pdf?utm_content=p19&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
3 Alabama Department of Corrections, Monthly Statistical
Report for August 2020. http://www.doc.state.al.us/docs/
MonthlyRpts/August%202020.pdf
4 Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs press
release 20-1328, Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against
the State of Alabama for Unconstitutional Conditions
in State’s Prisons for Men, Dec. 9, 2020. https://www.
justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-lawsuit-against-state-alabama-unconstitutional-conditions-states
5 Alabama Department of Corrections, Monthly Statistical
Reports, 2015. http://www.doc.state.al.us/StatReports
6 Cason, Mike, Department of Justice finds conditions at
Julia Tutwiler Prison to be unconstitutional, AL.com, Jan. 17,
2014. https://www.al.com/wire/2014/01/department_of_
justice_finds_un.html
7 Underwood, Madison, 15 inmates treated after riot at St.
Clair Correctional Facility following assault on corrections
officer, AL.com, April 17, 2015. https://www.al.com/news/
birmingham/2015/04/15_inmates_treated_after_riot.html
8 Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs press
release 20-1328, Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against
the State of Alabama for Unconstitutional Conditions
in State’s Prisons for Men, Dec. 9, 2020. https://www.
justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-lawsuit-against-state-alabama-unconstitutional-conditions-states
9 Haney, Craig, The Wages of Prison Overcrowding:
Harmful Psychological Consequences and Dysfunctional
Correctional Reactions, Washington University Journal of
Urban and Contemporary Law, Jan. 2006. https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1360&context=law_journal_law_policy
10 Cason, Mike, Alabama prison reform passes; governor
plans to sign, AL.com, May 7, 2015. https://www.al.com/
news/2015/05/alabama_prison_reform_bill_cou.html
11 Alabama Department of Corrections, Annual Report
Fiscal Year 2019. http://www.doc.state.al.us/docs/AnnualRpts/2019%20Annual%20Report.pdf
12 Howard, Ebony, SPLC Action Fund: Alabama
House Bill 380 would limit paroles, increase prison
overcrowding, Southern Poverty Law Center, May 10,
2019. https://www.splcenter.org/news/2019/05/10/
splc-action-fund-alabama-house-bill-380-would-limit-paroles-increase-prison-overcrowding
13 Cason, Mike, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey places moratorium on early paroles, AL.com, Oct. 15, 2018. https://www.
al.com/crime/2018/10/alabama-gov-kay-ivey-places-mora-

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torium-on-early-paroles.html
14 Stacy, Todd, and Caroline Beck, Ivey: Graddick soon out
at Pardons and Paroles, Alabama Daily News, Nov. 2, 2020.
https://www.wbrc.com/2020/11/02/ivey-graddick-soonout-pardons-paroles/
15 Alabama Bureau of Pardons & Paroles, FY 2019 Annual
Report. https://paroles.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/
Annual-Report-2019-Final-2.pdf. FY 2020 figures based on
reported parole hearings results as of Nov. 12, 2020, from
the Alabama Bureau of Pardons & Paroles website (https://
paroles.alabama.gov).
16 Casteel, Kathryn, and Will Tucker, Alabama prisons hold
more than 1,100 older people at greater COVID-19 risk,
Southern Poverty Law Center, April 2, 2020. https://www.
splcenter.org/news/2020/04/02/alabama-prisons-holdmore-1100-older-people-greater-covid-19-risk
17 Tucker, Will, White people more than twice as likely as
Black counterparts to be granted parole in June, Southern
Poverty Law Center, July 20, 2020. https://www.splcenter.
org/news/2020/07/20/hundreds-people-denied-parole-alabama-pandemic-worsened
18 Alabama Department of Corrections, Annual Report
Fiscal Year 2019. http://www.doc.state.al.us/docs/AnnualRpts/2019%20Annual%20Report.pdf
19 Alabama Department of Corrections, Request for
Proposals No. 2019-04: Development and Leasing of
New Correctional Facilities, Final RFP Issued April 6,
2020. http://www.doc.state.al.us/images/RFP/ADOC%20
Final%20RFP%20Addendum%20(4-6-2020).pdf. The
proposed lease for prison space would be $88 million for
30 years.
20 Lyman, Brian, Governor’s commission will decide fate
of existing Alabama men’s prisons, Montgomery Advertiser, Sept. 22, 2020. https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.
com/story/news/2020/09/22/alabama-governor-commission-decide-fate-existing-mens-prisons/3492951001/
21 Hunt, Kim Steven, and Billy Easley II, The Effects of
Aging on Recidivism Among Federal Offenders¸ United
States Sentencing Commission, Dec. 2017. https://www.
ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/
research-publications/2017/20171207_Recidivism-Age.pdf
22 Mauer, Marc, Long-Term Sentences: Time to Reconsider
the Scale of Punishment, The Sentencing Project, Nov. 5,
2018. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/
long-term-sentences-time-reconsider-scale-punishment/
23 Alabamians for Fair Justice, COVID-19 Recommendations, March 18, 2020. https://alabamafairjustice.org/
covid19-recommendations
24 Alabama Department of Corrections, ADOC COVID-19
Testing: Update Dec. 28, 2020. http://www.doc.alabama.
gov/covid19news
25 Benner, Katie, and Shaila Dewan, Alabama’s Gruesome
Prisons; Report Finds Rape and Murder at All Hours, The
New York Times, April 3, 2019. The figure of 13 medical
furloughs is from the Sept. 2020 Alabama Department of
Corrections Monthly Statistical Report.
26 Analysis of Alabama Department of Corrections prison

18

roster as of Oct. 22, 2020.
27 Alabama Department of Corrections, Annual Report
Fiscal Year 2019. http://www.doc.state.al.us/docs/AnnualRpts/2019%20Annual%20Report.pdf
28 State rankings based on most recent Bureau of Justice
Statistics figures on state prison capacity, as of 2019.
29 Lufkin, Bryan, The myth behind long prison sentences,
BBC Future, May 15, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/future/
article/20180514-do-long-prison-sentences-deter-crime
30 Hunt, Kim Steven, and Billy Easley II, The Effects of
Aging on Recidivism Among Federal Offenders, United
States Sentencing Commission, Dec. 2017. https://www.
ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/
research-publications/2017/20171207_Recidivism-Age.pdf
31 Florida Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, Office
of Economic & Demographic Research, Criminal Justice
Trends, July 27, 2020, p 65. http://edr.state.fl.us/Content/
conferences/criminaljustice/trends.pdf
32 Maruschak, Laura, Marcus Berzofsky, and Jennifer
Unangst, Medical Problems of State and Federal Prisoners
and Jail Inmates, 2011-12, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S.
Department of Justice, Feb. 2015. https://www.bjs.gov/
content/pub/pdf/mpsfpji1112.pdf
33 State of Florida Correctional Medical Authority, 20182019 Annual Report and Update on the Status of Elderly
Offenders in Florida’s Prisons, pp 34-35. http://www.
floridahealth.gov/programs-and-services/correctional-medical-authority/_documents/annual-reports/CorrectionalMedicalAuthority-2018-2019AnnualReport.pdf
34 Anno, Jaye, et al., Correctional Health Care: Addressing
the Needs of the Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill
Inmates, National Institute of Corrections, 2004. https://
nicic.gov/correctional-health-care-addressing-needs-elderly-chronically-ill-and-terminally-ill-inmates
35 Florida Department of Corrections Annual Report,
FY 2018-19. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/annual/1819/
FDC_AR2018-19.pdf
36 Florida Criminal Justice Estimating Conference,
Criminal Justice Trends Executive Summary, Office of
Economic & Demographic Research, July 27, 2020. http://
edr.state.fl.us/Content/conferences/criminaljustice/executivesummary.pdf
37 FL Stat § 944.275
38 Florida Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, HB
705 — Sentencing and Incarceration (Similar CS/SB 642),
Office of Economic & Demographic Research, Oct. 1, 2019.
http://edr.state.fl.us/content/conferences/criminaljusticeimpact/HB705.pdf
39 American Civil Liberties Union, At America’s
Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly, June
2012. https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/elderlyprisonreport_20120613_1.pdf
40 Calculation based on an average daily cost per person
incarcerated of $62.16, as of FY 2018-19.
41 Carson, Ann E., Prisoners in 2019, U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oct. 2020. https://
www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p19.pdf?utm_content=p19&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
42 Carson, Ann E., Prisoners in 2019, U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oct. 2020. https://

SPLC ACTION FUND // LONG ROAD TO NOWHERE

www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p19.pdf?utm_content=p19&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
43 Office of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Criminal Justice
Reform, June 2017. https://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/
page/58
44 Skene, Lea, Louisiana once again has nation’s
highest imprisonment rate after Oklahoma briefly
rose to top, The Advocate, Dec. 25, 2019. https://www.
theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_4dcdfe1c-213a-11ea-8314-933ce786be2c.html
45 Raw data of prison roster acquired via public records
request from Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
Corrections as of Nov. 2, 2020.
46 Data from FY 2019 annual reports from the respective Departments of Corrections of Texas, Alabama, and
Georgia. New York data is from FY 2018, the most recent
year available.
47 Raw data of prison roster acquired via public records
request from Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
Corrections as of Nov. 2, 2020.
48 Skene, Lea, Louisiana’s life without parole sentencing
the nation’s highest — and some say that should change,
The Advocate, Dec. 7, 2019. https://www.theadvocate.com/
baton_rouge/news/article_f6309822-17ac-11ea-8750f7d212aa28f8.html
49 Analysis of Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
Corrections raw data for incarcerated people in prison
custody as of Nov. 2, 2020.
50 Analysis of Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
Corrections raw data for incarcerated people in prison
custody as of Nov. 2, 2020.
51 Diekema, Douglas S., Adolescent Brain Development
and Medical Decision-making, American Academy of Pediatrics, May 18, 2020. https://pediatrics.aappublications.
org/content/pediatrics/146/Supplement_1/S18.full.pdf
52 Calculated at a daily incarceration cost of $50.81,
multiplied by 365 days, and 55 years, estimating a lifetime
incarceration cost of $1,020,010.75.
53 Louisianans for Prison Alternatives, Creating
Smarter Parole in Louisiana Where Redemption is
Possible, Spring 2020. https://assets.website-files.
com/5a9462f6b010650001b8d7bd/5e6685f4d3394662d7ef4d63_CJR_LPA%20Redemption%20Bill%20Factsheet%202020.pdf
54 Analysis of Louisiana Department of Public Safety and
Corrections raw data for incarcerated people in prison
custody as of Nov. 2, 2020. Releases would close the
black-white racial disparity in the prison population by an
estimated 3.1%.

19

ACTION
SPLC ACTION FUND // LONG ROAD TO NOWHERE

20

 

 

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