James Gill: Incarceration is down and crime is up. Should we go back to tougher sentences? | Columnist James Gill | #College. | #Students


With fewer offenders going to prison while crime spikes, legislators suspecting a connection are out to undo several of the reforms that Gov. John Bel Edwards rates among his finest accomplishments.

The Republicans who control the Legislature like nothing better than thwarting the Deep South’s sole Democratic governor. Edwards responded to a bill they passed making inmates wait longer to qualify for parole with the first in an expected flurry of vetoes.

You’d think he was some madcap liberal bent on transforming Louisiana into a criminal’s haven, but let us not lose sight of the context. We have let a bunch of convicts go, but we continue to lock up a higher percentage of our citizens than any other state in what remains the world imprisonment champion.

The runner-up in the incarceration stakes, by some distance, according to a database maintained at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, is Rwanda.

This is a dirt-poor Central African country, best known for the genocide of 30 years ago, when some 800,000 Tutsi were massacred by the Hutu majority. If conditions have improved since then, human rights continue to be widely flouted there, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. State Department.

Rwanda is in the news right now because that is where the British government has chosen to dump unsuccessful asylum-seekers now arriving by the thousands after crossing the English Channel in flimsy dinghies or stowed away in truck containers. Alarming numbers of them have drowned or suffocated during the last leg of an attempt to escape either persecution or economic deprivation in their home countries.

Australia led the way in sending unwanted foreigners to remote exile, initially to Papua New Guinea and now to Nauru. As for Britain’s rejects, Rwanda agreed to accept them in return for what has been described as an “initial” payment of around $150 million.

Britain’s deal was denounced as immoral by a slew of civil-rights groups, Amnesty International and even the heir to the throne, Prince Charles. The inaugural deportation flight was called off after last-ditch appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, and it appears that only the merest trickle of asylum rejects will ever be consigned to the dreaded Rwanda.

The similarities between America and Rwanda do not end with the high incarceration rates of today. England transported some 60,000 convicts for indentured servitude in the American colonies, and the current British government would love to make asylum applicants disappear at a similar rate. Logistics would present no problem if unwelcome Syrians and Iraqis, say, were diverted across the Atlantic, with Baton Rouge, like the Rwandan capital of Kigali, slightly more than 4,000 miles from London. We’d want more than a measly $150 million payoff, however.

Of course, this is a facetious suggestion, as it would be even if America had not long ago repudiated the “melting pot” tag, and turned against immigration to the extent that the chaos at the southern border is one reason the Democrats are regarded as highly likely to lose the presidency in the next election.

In Louisiana, meanwhile, daily reports of violent crime turn people into nervous wrecks, and polls show the public has lost confidence in the New Orleans Police Department. As calls for a return to the inhumane and wasteful penal policies of yore grow more insistent, it will not be easy to leave Rwanda in the dust.

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