Nicholas Barber

Nicholas Barber

2017 Undergraduate Fellow
History

Thesis title and description:

"The Historical Roots of Louisiana's Crisis in Criminal Justice: From Convict Leasing to Public Defense"

To sum up the current collapse of the Louisiana state public defender system, Jarvis DeBerry, a columnist for NOLA.com, wrote: "If you hated poor people but were forced to provide for their defense, you'd probably come up with the kind of funding mechanism for indigent defense that Louisiana has.” The Louisiana public defense system is crumbling, collapsing under its own weight. As the incarceration capital of the United States, Louisiana has always had a fraught relationship with criminal justice and its most marginalized populations. My thesis seeks to trace the continuities (and discontinuities) between the state's approach to criminal justice in the immediate post-bellum period to its public defense meltdown today. Starting with late 19th century convict leasing and the ensuing century of exploitation, I attempt to illuminate the particular blend of racial capitalism and institutional neglect that has characterized Louisiana criminal justice throughout its history. This historical framework, I think, helps understand how the current crisis arose: a largely continuous view of its prisoners as a population from which to extract public resources. From 1844 to 2017, Louisiana has sought to support its criminal justice system on the backs of those it is meant to protect and reform.