Best of #StateReads: Why Louisiana Leads the World in Imprisonment

  • May 16, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads covers why Louisiana has the highest imprisonment rate in the world, the rise of education advocacy groups that often combat teacher unions in statehouses and questionable investments by the teachers' pension fund in Texas.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“Louisiana Incarcerated” — The Times-Picayune 

“Louisiana,” writes Cindy Chang (@CindyChangLA), “is the world's prison capital.” The state has twice the number of people in prison per capita as the national average, which means it leads the world, too. The Times-Picayune is running an eight-part series on the factors for the high rate and its consequences. Counties and private prison companies benefit from building new prisons for state prisoners and offer the inmates few services. Meanwhile, a state penitentiary in Angola offers far more generous programs, such as training for vocational skills, but the programs are of little use, because the vast majority of prisoners there are serving life sentences.

“The changing face of education advocacy” — Education Week

Reporters Stephen Sawchuk (@TeacherBeat) and Sean Cavanagh (@EdWeekSCavanagh) examine the sudden rise of groups lobbying state legislators and getting involved in statehouse races to push their recipe for improving schools. Groups such as Stand for Children, StudentsFirst and Democrats for Education Reform champion ideas including increased use of charter schools, performance reviews for teachers and higher academic standards for schools and students. “Though the record of their electoral success is mixed,” Sawchuk writes, “such groups' overall influence appears to be growing, and it has already helped alter the landscape of education policy, particularly at the state level.” Education Week's series also looks at how the groups made headway in states and how they are funded.

“Texas teachers' pension fund invests in casinos, loses $99 million” — The Dallas Morning News

Texas' teacher pension fund bet big on a Las Vegas gambling company and lost $99 million, reports Steve McGonigle (@McGonigleSteve). The Teacher Retirement System of Texas lost another $599 million on high-risk real estate deals since 2006. Of course, investment losses cannot be avoided altogether, but the casino deal was especially fraught, McGonigle writes. “By investing in Station [Casinos], TRS backed a politically connected Las Vegas family, in a city on the brink of a real estate catastrophe, and an activity — casino gambling — that is illegal in Texas.” In a follow-up piece, McGonigle examined the ties between Station Casinos and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

“Walker's official work time declines as national fame grows” — Wisconsin Watch 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's upcoming recall election is putting a dent in the time he devotes every week to official business, report Kate Golden (@WisWatchKate) and Amy Karon (@AmyKaron). “By January 2012,” they wrote, “Walker scheduled about 30 hours a week for state business — half as much work time as six months earlier.” The reporters combed through the governor's calendar to analyze his day-to-day activities from his first year in office. Wisconsin Watch's report includes an interactive graphic that allows users to see how Walker's activities changed over time.

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