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The state of Louisisna has the prison capital. The Louisiana State Penitentiary otherwise named the Angola prison is the biggest maximum security prison in America. The prison is a good piece to examine and understand the prison system in the US and its social-political implications. The prison also has a rich history on slavery in America which majority believe is still practiced to date. Today, incarceration rates in the US have risen to approximately 500%[1]. The prison is founded on the mission to provide custody, control, care and treatment of offenders by enforcing laws and management programs to ensure safety for all, offenders, staff and the public[2]. However, one cannot fail to notice the disaproportionate racial composition of the prisoners. Angola prison is the basis on which we explore the slavery legacy, racial disparity and its social and political implications.

Political History

The prison has been used by politicians to gain support. Louisiana’s penal history is unique because of its politicization since its initial lease in 1944. Reforms at the facility have been slow. The legislators paid no attention to reforms with a focus on the cash deficits facing the prison in the 1930s[3]. The political leaders including governors were opposed to penal reforms as they would mean the loss of the cheap leased labor and financial disruptions. They favored unprofessional staff the facility as they were easier to patronage and preserve their personal political interests. Politicians supervise Education, highways, hospitals. Governor Robert Kennon is remembered for his significant impact in modernizing the penal system at the facility. He introduced professional staff and increased staff numbers. Initially, convicts would be used as guards in the facility. Politics of punishment along with race politics continue to thrive in the facility.

Politics has influenced the reform process negatively with slow and unpredictable changes. Focus is on reaping big profits. There is a need to keep politics from the prison. In addition, laws against discrimination need to be enacted.  Police reforms need to focus on equal treatment for crimes to end the disproportionate incarceration for blacks and to ensure equal treatment for crimes.

History, Ideology Implications

The prison sits on 18,000 acres that were formerly a slave-breeding plantation. The naming of the prison originated from the Africans who worked on the then Angola plantation. After the emancipation of the slaves in 1865, the plantation was turned into a prison. One would expect the state to end brutality against blacks and slavery.  Previously, the state operated leased prisons with prisoners being leased out to private companies. Leasing prisoners led to much abuse as they worked on private farms. The expectation is that the trend is different in the 21st century. However, the prison is a representation of brutality and modern slavery.

Racial disparity and continued torture for the black people is evident in the prison. Statistics show that one in three blacks face incarceration in America. Moreover, the possibility of a black being sentenced without parole is 23 times higher than a white’s[4].  The prison has the majority of incarcerated as black, taking 70%. One remarkable case is that of the Angola three who were falsely accused of murder in a case riddled with inconsistencies, corruption, and bribery. Additionally, blacks are assigned roles in the farm while whites take up easier roles[5].The blacks are a minority in the US, and the statistics should also be reflected in prison populations. Ironically, this is not the case because there is witch-hunt for black prisoners. A lot has to be done to explain why blacks continue to perish in the prison at rates disproportionate to their numbers in the population[6].

The penal system reflects torture and dehumanization not so different from slavery period. Several malpractices have happened there including solitary confinement and strip searches[7]. Death row inmates are also exposed to extreme heat conditions that expose them to disease. Forced labor on the plantation for the blacks is evident with meagre earnings. Non-violent offenders are locked up with no parole. A report by ACLU notes that 79% of inmates on a life sentence without parole die in jail for non-violent drug offences. Further, these are mostly poor black Americans trying to feed their families. In Louisiana, the percentage of the black population serving sentences without parole is 91.4 %. Most of these serve the sentences for minor, non-violent offences. This is worsened by unequal treatment for whites and blacks with similar crimes. Prisoners are coerced into participating in the rodeo as a show to the public on Sundays in October and once in April[8]. The aim of entertainment cannot be achieved in a tradition of dehumanization and brutality as experienced by inmates at the prison[9]. Such acts reflect ancient slavery.

Emphasis on profits continues to be a major goal in Angola as was with slavery. Though prisoners are taught skills, the emphasis is to make money for the prison. They manufacture plates, mattresses, and brooms among others. The for-profit prison has to ensure maximum capacity full to continue receiving cheap labor for their production and farms. Slavery is witnessed with the black prisoners working in the cotton fields of Angola prison earning around four cents per hour. Use of modern slavery to ensures the prison is self-supported. The government should raise payments per hour to the prisoners or erase the forced labor altogether.

Response to Social and Political Situation

Recidivism is a major challenge. The majority of released prisoners are paid the small amounts to use as they search for work. This is part of the amounts they worked for while in custody. However, the amounts are barely enough to sustain them till they gain alternative employment. As a result, the majority of released prisoners turn to crime. The result is that they end up returning to the prison. This trend has been a challenge to efforts to rehabilitate the prisoners. Several measures have been put in place. Focus on restorative justice is the new initiative for effective rehabilitation. The initiative is expected to counter recidivism and will also be a cost reduction measure. Restorative justice guides the victim in taking responsibility for their crimes and mitigating further harm. Recidivism will reduce, and crime will be prevented. The program is also cost-effective[10]. The victim-offender dialogue is the strategy to achieve restorative justice[11]. The prison has also adopted a faith based strategy to rehabilitation[12]. The turn to religion is expected to reverse the rising trends on incarceration. Recidivism for inmates on the faith-based program is also lower. The initiatives are instrumental in crime reduction.

Given the brutal history of Angola Prison and the inhumane conditions that inmates continue to face at the prison, several lawsuits have been filed by inmates. Federal intervention has not helped end the brutality at the prison. 2013 was the year when three inmates filed a federal lawsuit protesting the unbearable heat condition faced by the death row prisoners. The section housing the death row inmates experienced high temperatures during the summers, hitting up to 126 degrees. Though the judge ruled in their favor, the prison appealed the case against providing air conditioning. The appeal reveals a lack of commitment to improving conditions.

Policy Implications

Given harsh criticism, the state department has taken efforts to reduce incarceration rates. The residential Probation and Parole Revocation Centre is set to divert technical offenders to short term program. The inmates will then be released to community supervision. Apart from creating savings and offering a program safer than incarceration; the initiative will provide rehabilitation for anger management and substance abuse treatment.

The 13th amendment is to blame for the slavery at the prison. The dehumanizing incarceration of blacks conjures images of slavery. Black men are still hoeing, ploughing and picking cotton and other crops. These were the same roles played by slaves. The amendment has a critical loophole, “except as a punishment for crime”[13]. This clause allowed the use of inmates as a source of cheap labor. Till today, the prison carries a legacy of slavery with it. Abolishing the slavery legacy requires legislative reforms. Over-policing and bias of the black community have to stop. Political interest must focus on reforms and amendments to existing laws to reverse the trend on slavery and racism.




American Civil Rights Union (ACLU). “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses.” American Civil Rights Union. 2013. https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/111813-lwop-complete-report.pdf (accessed Nov 7, 2015).

Angola Museum. History of Angola Prison. 2015. http://www.angolamuseum.org/history/history/ (accessed Nov 7, 2015).

Anon. “13th Amendment to the US Constitution.” Sept 30, 2015. http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/13thamendment.html. (accessed Nov 8, 2015).

Bergeron, Roy L. “Faith on the Farm: An Analysis of Angola Prison’s Moral Rehabilitation Program Under the Establishment Clause.” Louisiana Law Review 71, no. 4 (2011): 1222-1257.

Cain, Burl. “Louisiana State Penitentiary.” Nov 05, 2015. oc.la.gov/pages/correctional-facilities/louisiana-state-penitentiary/ (accessed Nov 7, 2015).

Carleton, Mark T. Politics and Punishment: The History of the Louisiana State Penal System. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana University Press, 1994.

Cohen, Patricia. “Tower and Cell, Signifying Much More Than a Prison.” The New York Times. July 8, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/arts/design/an-angola-tower-and-cell-are-bound-for-national-mall.html?_r=0 (accessed Nov 7, 2015).

DeMott, Benj. That Floating Bridge. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2013.

Gould, Mary Rachel. “Discipline and the Performance of Punishment: Welcome to “The Wildest Show in the South”.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 7, no. 4 (2015): 1-29.

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Fiscal Year 2008-2009 Annual Report. Annual Report, Baton Rouge: Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2009.

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Master Plan: Where we are-Where we are Going: A report to the State. Baton Rouge: Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, 2003.

Martin, Lori Latrice, Kenneth Fasching-Varner, Molly Quinn, and Melinda Jackson. “acism, Rodeos, and the Misery Industries of Louisiana.” The Journal of Pan African Studies 7, no. 6 (2014): 60-83.

Mauer, Marc, and Ryan S. King. Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity. Research, NW: The Sentencing Project, 2007.

McGaughty, Lauren. “Letter to Feds says Angola says Angola Conditions are Cruel.” The Times, July 14, 2013: A-6.





[1] Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity (The Sentencing Project, 2007)

[2] Cain Burl, Louisiana State Penitentiary, 2015

[3] Carleton, Mark T. Politics and Punishment: The History of the Louisiana State Penal System (Louisiana University Press, Baton Rouge, LA 1994)

[4] American Civil Rights Union (ACLU) A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses, 2013

[5] Martin et al, Racism Rodeos, and the Misery Industries of Louisiana, 2014

[6] Patricia Cohen, Tower and Cell, Signifying Much More Than a Prison The New York Times, 2013

[7] , Lauren McGaughty, Letter to Feds says Angola says Angola Conditions are Cruel, 2013

[8] Mary Rachel Gould, Discipline and the Performance of Punishment: Welcome to “The Wildest Show in the South” 2015

[9] Mary Rachel Gould,  Discipline and the Performance of Punishment: Welcome to “The Wildest Show in the South” 2011

[10]  Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Master Plan: Where we are-Where we are going: A report to the State, 2003.

[11] Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Master Plan: Where we are-Where we are going: A report to the State, 2003.

[12] Roy L. Bergeron, Faith on the Farm: An Analysis of Angola Prison’s Moral Rehabilitation Program Under the Establishment Clause 2011

[13] Anon, 13th Amendment to the US constitution, 2015



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