A declining number of Louisiana inmates over the past two years has helped the state lose its unwanted status as the nation’s incarceration capital. The drop in prisoners also threatens to pinch budgets for sheriffs, some of whom built jails on the promise of an endless supply of state inmates. Many of the beds left empty by the state are now being filled by asylum-seekers and others detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, The Advocate reports. Several Louisiana sheriffs and a small-town mayor have signed deals with ICE to hold thousands of detainees, arrangements that will send an influx of federal dollars to those agencies — and to LaSalle Corrections, the private prison operator that helps run three of the jails.
Taken together, the four agreements will provide 2,800 detention beds for ICE, more than doubling the agency’s detention capacity in Louisiana amid a surge in the number of asylum-seekers and immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally and are being held by federal authorities. If ICE fills all those beds, the number of ICE detainees sitting in Louisiana jails will match almost perfectly the drop in state prisoners housed in parish and municipal jails — 2,692 — since state lawmakers passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform package aimed at cutting Louisiana’s nation-leading incarceration rate. Louisiana houses a higher percentage of state inmates in local jails than any other state. Officials have been trying to rely less on local lockups as inmate numbers fall, as jails overseen by sheriffs are thought to offer less in the way of rehabilitation than state prisons. The Trump administration has moved to keep nearly everyone seeking asylum in the U.S. locked up in detention centers as their applications move through backlogged immigration courts, even as the number of new asylum-seekers has spiked.