AP Photo/Judi Bottoni
The entrance to the Angola prison where Norris Henderson was imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.
There was a great deal of talk at the Democratic National Convention this week about what “we” have built as a collective. We were reminded by the speakers of some very positive contributions that We the People have produced. But one industry which we've built stronger and faster, perhaps, than any other? Our prison-industrial complex, the American growth industry that isn't on the tip of most tongues.
Since 1970, the number of people incarcerated in this country has grown by 700%. And the state leading the nation and the world in per capita incarcerations is Melissa’s home state of Louisiana, where the lock-up rate is nearly five times that of Iran, 13 times that of China and 20 times that of Germany.
As you saw today, Melissa and I spent some time in New Orleans looking at how the state’s incarceration crisis is affecting the city. Due in part to the law-enforcement abuses that took place during Hurricane Katrina, fresh scrutiny is being paid to the city’s policing and incarceration systems.
Earlier this summer, the Department of Justice announced an agreement with the New Orleans Police Department to put a stop to the long history of civil rights abuses and corruption that has plagued the city’s law enforcement. The agreement, known as a consent decree, requires the department to comply with hundreds of new policies. Similarly, a consent decree is imminent to bring the Orleans Parish Prison to remedy unconstitutional conditions at the city’s jail complex.
We spoke to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman about the conditions at his prison and the perverse incentive system in which the city government funds the parish jails by paying per body jailed. Activists like Norris Henderson, who himself spent nearly half his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit, argue that the federal government’s involvement is little more than an internal audit. He told Melissa,
“I guarantee you somebody with that uniform on is doing something they don’t have any business doing right now, even it’s no more than casual indifference to seeing something happen and not saying it.”
Melissa Harris-Perry visits her hometown of New Orleans and talks with Norris Henderson, a prison reform activist, about the record number of incarcerations set by America, and the fight in Louisiana to seek prison reform.