4 Apr 2022


Louisiana State Penitentiary

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Louisiana State Penitentiary boosts of nicknames such as “Alcatraz,” “Angola” and “The Bloodiest Prison in America.” Louisiana State Penitentiary is the largest maximum-security prison in America, with over 6000 prisoners. The prison has a unique history dating back to the early 19th century during the time of radical penal reformation. 


Louisiana State Prison (LSP) is located in an 18,000-acre property in West Feliciana Parrish, Baton Rouge. LSP is at the remote corner of Louisiana, and it covers 26 square miles. Located at the end of Louisiana Highway 66, it borders three sides of the Mississippi River. 

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According to Tolino (2013), the history of LSP can be traced back to 1812 when Louisiana gained statehood. Edward Livingston, a lawyer from New York, was sent to Louisiana to establish legal codes for Louisiana once it became a part of the United States. Livingston came up with recommendations on civil code, code of procedure, commercial code and the penal code (Tolino, 2013). Livingston recommended a penal system that rehabilitated prisoners through education and vocational training; however, the state assembly rejected Livingston’s recommendation on the penal system. 

Eventually, the state constructed a new penitentiary (LSP) in 1835 modelled after Connecticut’s Wethersfield Prison. The penitentiary was very expensive for the state, and the state resorted to convict leasing to generate profit (Tolino, 2013). The prisoners remained under private control until 1901. The prisoners were over-exploited for a profit motive. In the first half of the 20th century, LSP underwent numerous struggles and changes. The penitentiary was in sordid conditions, and prisoners often resorted to violence against each other and the wardens. For instance, in 1951, 31 inmates slashed their tendons to protest their inhumane living conditions at the prison, which resulted in a magazine article calling LSP “America’s Worst Prison.”

Since then, numerous changes in prison leadership and facilities were implemented. Eventually, in 1994, LSP received accreditation by American Correctional Association as a healthy environment for prisoners. 

Penal Philosophy

Like most maximum-security prisons, LSP has a tough penal philosophy. From its history, LSP was involved in convict leasing to private firms where they provided labor under harsh conditions for the private firms until 1901. Nonetheless, things have not changed much for prisoners at LSP. LSP prisoners work in the crop plantations that stretch to the horizon, they work on the fields for long while officers on horseback oversee their work. 

According to Benns (2015), the documentary on LSP, Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary is similar to the slave-plantation scenes seen in the movies. Most of the inmates are African American, and they work all day in the plantation, the same way slaves did. Once the doctor has cleared the prisoners at LSP, they are forced to work under the threat of solitary confinement and others privileges such as family visitation being taken away. Failure to work also leads to revocation of earned good time. 

LSP became a popular symbol of prison abuses in the late 1990s when the documentary The Farm: Angola was released and nominated for an academy award (Pyke, 2016). It is associated with many wrongful convictions, and the poor are denied of their due process once in LSP. Louisiana is the leading state in the U.S and across the world with a conviction rate of 1 in 86. This practice is maintained to profit private companies running prisons. 

Benns (2015) notes that prisoners earn pennies per hour for the forced labor, if anything at all. Incarcerated individuals work within in-house operations, while others work in convict-leasing programs for profitable businesses. In such programs, inmates are involved in mining, agriculture and all manner of manufacturing businesses. At LSP, laboring inmates cannot run away because of the 20-foot barbed electric fence and gun towers. Additionally, deadly natural barriers that make it hard to escape surround LSP. 


LSP has a high staff population to support the maximum-security inmates and the vast penitentiary property. Members make up 1,800 staff; correctional officers, janitors, maintenance, and wardens. According to Golderg (2015), a number of prisoners that have served longer sentences are also used as supervisors in the farm, automotive technology school, Christian groups, substance abuse groups, and other programs. 

Burl Cains, the prison warden, is responsible for the change in LSP for the past two decades (Goldberg, 2015). When Cains took over in 1992, LSP experienced 1,346 assaults and there were no reform programs. In 2014, LSP had 343 assaults, which is a considerable improvement because most inmates are in for violent crimes. Cains used religion to introduce reforms in the facility; he established various vocational training programs for the prisoners that will get out of the system. 

Inmate Population

LSP has a population of 6,300 inmates (Goldberg, 2015). 85% of the inmates committed violent crimes, particularly second-degree murder and they are serving 50 years-to-life sentences; other prisoners are on death row, without about 80 inmates awaiting execution (Goldberg, 2015). 

80% of the prisoners are African American. Due to the large number of inmates and lengthy stay of the prisoners, the facility has an array of services to serve the inmates. It has segregation units, disciplinary units, death row units, 16 medium and minimum custody dormitories, maximum custody units, and multiple out- camps. It also has numerous vocational programs that allow inmates to attain GED, and basic education in carpentry, culinary skills, automotive repair, HVAC among others vocations (Prisonpro.com, 2016). 

Other Interesting Facts about LSP

Angola Museum

Given its rich history, LSP has a museum to showcase various aspects of its history. The museum is used to display evidence of the violent history of the museum and other aspect of the prison life. For instance, the display of the prison’s horse-drawn hearse is a fancy display of a hearse meant to promote compassion since most inmates will be released after their death. 

LSP museum has a display called “Prison Horror,” which details the murder of two inmates by another inmate with a meat cleaver. The displays features the meat cleaver, and the gruesome scene photos. While the museum is a bit scary, it entertains families and tourists during prison visits. 

The Angolite

LSP has an acclaimed publication, The Angolite. It began in the mid-1970s as part of the movement to ensure the facility adhered to federally mandated reforms (Tolino, 2013). A prisoner is in charge of the magazine; however, articles in the magazine and the magazine’s phone line are censored. Nonetheless, prisoners are able to express their creativity and share some of their issues in the magazine. 

Angola Prison Rodeo

Angola Prison Rodeo was started in 1965 for recreational purposes; but it has gained a lot of popularity. It is now open to the public, and in 2000, LSP built a bigger stadium to accommodate 7500 spectators (Tolino, 2013). The prison rodeo is a source of funds for prisoners’ welfare fund. 


Benns, W. (2015). American Slavery, Reinvented. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/prison-labor-in-america/406177/

Goldberg, J. (2015). The End of the Line: Rehabilitation and Reform in Angola Penitentiary. The Atlantic . Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/a-look- inside-angola-prison/404377/

Pike, A. (2016). Notorious Louisiana Prison Accuses Inmate Of ‘Defiance’ For Speaking With Reporters. ThinkProgress. Retrieved from: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2016/04/27/3773209/angola-inmate-retribution/

PrisonPro. (2016). Louisiana State Penitentiary. Retrieved from: http://www.prisonpro.com/content/louisiana-state-penitentiary

Tolino, V. (2013). Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. In KnowLa Encyclopedia of Louisiana . Edited by David Johnson, Louisiana Endowment for Humanities . Retrieved from: http://www.knowla.org/entry/768/

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Louisiana State Penitentiary.


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