October 31, 2013
OPPRC Criticizes Theme of Louisiana Museum Fundraiser as In Bad Taste,
Calls for Lecture Program on Impact of Mass Incarceration
The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) recently learned of the fund-raising event “ Big Easy Speakeasy ” sponsored by the Louisiana Museum Foundation scheduled for Nov. 2, 2013.
The goal of the event is to raise funds to support Louisiana state museums, which is a worthy cause. What is not so worthy is the theme of the event, which is described as “An arresting experience with Jails, Jazz, and Bonnie & Clyde.” The banner headline for the event is “INCARCERATED For One Night Only!” and features several “notorious duos”, including the “lead Honorary Chair Criminal Masterminds” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson. Prominent citizens and museum supporters are listed as “Bail Bondsmen” and “bail donations are being sought for the release of these notorious duos”.
This gala event is taking place at a time when the City of New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate of any city in the United States, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the U.S. and the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.
Since April, 2006, 42 people have died in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO), many under highly questionable circumstances.
OPP is currently under a federal consent decree including court monitoring and oversight due to the unconstitutional conditions at the jail. Conditions at OPP were recently found to “offend contemporary notions of human decency” in federal court proceedings. In June, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk concluded that OPP is “an indelible stain on the community.” Both the size of the jail and the financial cost of operating such a dysfunctional system are currently issues of great public concern and public hearings in front of the New Orleans City Council.
In addition, there is a disparate impact of over-incarceration on the African American community, poor people, the mentally ill and those struggling with substance abuse issues. One of seven African American men in the City of New Orleans is under some kind of criminal justice system control, i.e., jail, prison, probation or parole. Many individuals in our jails and prisons suffer from mental illness and substance abuse issues. Instead of providing treatment or alternatives to incarceration, our state is closing down hospitals, slashing education and filling our jails and prisons at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. The human cost of over-incarceration has been devastating to families and our community.
And in the midst of all of this, the Louisiana Museum Foundation has chosen to use the theme of jails and incarceration as a “fun” event to raise money to support the state museums.
The OPPRC has issued a public flyer “Incarceration is Not a Joke” criticizing the “incredibly bad taste” of this fund-raising event, and urging those involved with the event to take this opportunity to educate themselves about the pressing issues facing our City regarding over-incarceration and the horrendous conditions in our jail.
OPPRC has also urged contributors to the Museum Foundation to make matching donations to the pre-trial services program of the Vera Foundation and/or the Orleans Public Defenders Office, which recently had to lay off staff and remains seriously underfunded. Organizations like Vera and the Orleans Public Defenders are critical to insuring that persons presumed innocent of an offense who are not a danger to the community or a risk of flight, are provided with reasonable pre-trial release conditions rather than being locked up for months awaiting trial in our notoriously dangerous jail.
In addition, Museum supporters are urged to support an exhibit and lecture program to travel throughout the state, about the history and impact of incarceration in Louisiana.
“It is disappointing that an organization such as the Louisiana Museum Foundation, and prominent political leaders of our city and state would sponsor and participate in such an ill-advised, insensitive event”, said Don Everard, a spokesperson for OPPRC. “ The devastating impact of Louisiana’s over-incarceration system on minority, poor and other vulnerable communities, is not funny. It concerns us that there is not a deeper awareness of the painful history of incarceration in our city and state, as well as the serious issues confronting us today regarding the appalling conditions of the Orleans Parish Prison. We have asked to meet with the Louisiana Museum Foundation Board, as well as Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Council President Jackie Clarkson to express our concerns and discuss these matters further”
The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) is a group of concerned organizations and individuals from diverse political, economic and cultural backgrounds who represent a broad sector of the New Orleans community who have come together to advocate for a smaller jail and the reallocation of funds from incarceration and detention to building the infrastructure of a caring community.
Media Contact: Don Everard (504) 523-7495