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Louisiana, Mississippi top states with highest imprisonment per capita rates

VIDALIA — Parish prisons and correctional facilities around the state are hovering near capacity.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics ranked Louisiana first in imprisonment per capita for 2012 in a nationwide study, released last week. The study found 893 residents locked up per 100,000 in Louisiana. Mississippi didn’t fall far behind, in second place with 717 residents per 100,000.

Louisiana and Mississippi’s prison population also grew slightly from 2011 to 2012. Louisiana’s population grew by 1,538. Mississippi’s population grew by 933.

LSU Law Center professor Ray Diamond said national and local wars on drugs are a contributing factor to Louisiana and Mississippi’s high ranking.

“I’d bet that the difference between the states where rates continue to be high and where rates are low is represented in the difference in non-violent crime,” Diamond said.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said the sheriff’s office jail isn’t abnormally full, but understands Mississippi’s ranking.

“Mississippi and Louisiana are both economically depressed states,” Mayfield said. “I think that has something to do with our high incarceration rates. Our jail usually has 60 to 110 inmates, but that isn’t unusual for an area our size.”

High imprisonment rates are present in Concordia Parish prisons, Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick said.

Hedrick said parish prisons hover at 90-percent capacity.

“We stay fairly full,” he said. “We are very seldom at max capacity, but we always have a large number of prisoners.”

On Tuesday, 590 people were imprisoned at River Correctional Facility, a privately owned prison with a maximum capacity of 602.

The Concordia Parish Correctional Facility was 96 percent full on Tuesday, with approximately 510 people imprisoned.

Many of the imprisoned are repeat violators of drug laws, Hedrick said.

“Drugs is definitely the number one thing,” he said. “Drugs lead to everything else, like burglary and armed robbery. It’s a problem and one reason that our jails stay so full.”

Retired Seventh District and Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Gremillion said local law enforcement’s aggressive anti-drug attitude also contributes to the high rate of incarceration in Concordia Parish.

Gremillion served as a judge in the seventh district from 1983 until 1995 and retired from the third circuit in 2008. He recently returned to the bench to fill in for Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Leo Boothe, who is suspended until March 16, 2014 for granting a motion to reduce James Skipper’s 25-year jails sentence to 12 years.

Gremillion said drug arrests may have actually increased since previously serving in the seventh district.

“Maybe it’s that the young people in this area don’t have anything to do, or maybe it is just a sign of the times,” he said. “I would say that 70 to 80 percent of what I see in court is drug related.”

High incarceration rates may seem negative, but full prisons mean an increase in revenue for the sheriff’s office, Hedrick said.