‘Modern slavery’: A Louisiana sheriff has a controversial reason for opposing prison reform

‘Modern slavery’: A Louisiana sheriff has a controversial reason for opposing prison reform
Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator made some controversial comments about Louisiana's new criminal justice reform law last week. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Steve Prator, sheriff of Caddo Parish in Louisiana, is strongly opposed to a new prison reform law that will release about 60 out of 350 state prisoners next November. But it’s not out of some sense of justice, or a passion for strict laws and tough sentences.

It’s because he needs those guys to wash cars, change oil and cook in the kitchens to save the county some money. Now critics are saying he’s talking about people like property and promoting a form of ‘modern slavery.’

What he said

“In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money,” Prator said.

“I don’t want state prisoners,” Prator said. “But they are a necessary evil to keep the doors open.”

You can hear more of his comments in this audio clip.

The law in question

A law signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards over the summer aims to reduce the state’s incarcerated population by 10 percent, through relaxed drug sentencing rules, streamlined penalties for theft and the reduced use of mandatory minimum sentences, according to the Washington Post.

The law would save the state more than $260 million over the next 10 years. Louisiana currently has an incarceration rate of about twice the national average.

Race-based reaction

This clip gained more attention when columnist and activist Shaun King shared it on his Twitter feed Thursday, accusing the sheriff of wanting to keep black men in jail.

To be clear, Prator did not mention race at any point in his comments about the law.

“My many years of public service prove beyond any doubt that I view all persons equally,” Prator said in a statement. “To say or imply any differently is untruthful.”

The reason King and others have seized on to a racial aspect of these comments is that Louisiana’s overall population is 32 percent black, but the number of blacks in prison outnumber whites almost 2-to-1.

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