Louisiana Sheriff Argues For Keeping ‘Good Prisoners’ Incarcerated So They Can Work, Drawing Comparisons To Slavery

"I think they’re a reflection of the way our criminal justice system is functioning now," said a former Louisiana public defender.

Steve Prator, the sheriff of Caddo Parish in Louisiana, is now facing a wave of criticism following controversial comments he made about the incarcerated. Prator had suggested that "good" prisoners be kept laboring in the system indefinitely to save costs.

According to The Washington Post, Prator's comments came during a news conference made to address measures which would reduce the amount of people incarcerated in local jails.

Prator described state prisoners as a “necessary evil to keep the [jail] doors open ... 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 kitchens, to do all that where we save money."

The measure in question would free about 60 of the 350 currently jailed in Prator's area when the policy goes into effect in November. The bills to reform the system were introduced by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who advocated for relaxed drug sentencing and streamlined penalties for theft and the reduced use of mandatory minimum sentences. The plan is predicted to save the state $262 million over the next decade.

Prator's comments were shared by influential writer Shaun King, who was horrified by the sentiments expressed:

The sheriff's office fired back at the criticism by denouncing the “rantings and lies of an uninformed blogger,” (King was unnamed) in a statement on Thursday.

“My many years of public service prove beyond any doubt that I view all persons equally,” Prator said in a statement. “To say or imply any differently is untruthful.”

800 out of every 100,000 Louisiana residents are incarcerated, the highest number of people incarcerated per capita in the country. Louisiana jails twice as more black people as white people. The state also holds most of its prisoners in local jails, which offer fewer programs and services.

“Let’s face it, somebody got to be number one and we got some bad dudes around here," said Prator. “These people need to be locked up, until we’re sure that they’re not going to re-offend when they get out, or we’ve done everything possible."

“It’s very disturbing that he is essentially saying that purpose of sentencing policy should be to provide free labor to the sheriff’s department,” countered Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit. “It has nothing to do with public safety, it has nothing to do with redemption, restoration, or self-improvement, it’s all about saving money for the sheriff’s department.”

“My immediate reaction is what he’s talking about is the economic exploitation of human beings,” concurred Angel Harris, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund who has worked as a public defender in Louisiana, who called the comments "disgusting."

“He’s not opposing these individuals’ release because he’s afraid they will reoffend or because they’ll be a danger to society,” she said. “He’s opposing it because he’s going to lose good workers. It reeks of the issue of slavery ... I think they’re a reflection of the way our criminal justice system is functioning now. I think what’s shocking to people is that this man just said this on television. That attitude is what’s permeating throughout our criminal justice system.”

“He just doesn’t really — I don’t think in my opinion — understand the information at hand,” said Secretary James Le Blanc of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

[Photo: Screenshot from Twitter @ShaunKing]

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