The ACLU of Louisiana today condemned statements by Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, in which he argued that “good” people are needed in jail to perform prison labor. Sheriff Prator stated that it is a “necessary evil” to keep the “good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change the oil in our cars [and] cook in the kitchen.”

ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman issued this statement:

“The criminal justice system is supposed to be about keeping communities safe.  Jails are not supposed to incarcerate people just because they need work done – that is slavery.  Sheriff Prator’s comments demonstrate a shocking disregard for the very principles on which our justice system is based and raise serious concerns about his department’s approach to public safety. The criminal justice reforms enacted this year were a historic step forward, but there is clearly more work to do to root out the vestiges of slavery and racial injustice that infect our society and communities.”

The Sheriff’s statements also harken back to Louisiana’s history of convict leasing. Almost as soon as Louisiana built its first penitentiary in Baton Rouge in 1835, the state struggled to afford housing and caring for convicts. To save money, it began leasing convicts to farm and plantation owners, for a profit when possible. In 1844, the state leased the prison and all the prisoners to a private company. In 1869, the state sold the lease to former Confederate Maj. Samuel James, who leased and later bought Angola Plantation and moved the prison there.

A video of the Sheriff’s statement is here:

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