Take Back the Land Forum Notes 7-8-14

Notes from OPPRC Take Back the Land Community Forum
July 8th 2014 Unitarian Universalist Church

Welcome from Norris Henderson- Founding Member OPPRC
• There is a green space between the new jail being built and the already built kitchen at OPP. The sheriff wants to build phase III of his jail facility on it despite the fact that the consent decree mandates a cap of 1,438 jail beds. There is nothing on that space now.
• We are gathered to hear ideas from folks in the room re: what the community can envision this space can be used for instead of 500 new jail beds
• Notes representatives in attendance from Jason Williams, LaToya Cantrell & Susan Guidry’s office
• Some of these ideas could catch fire and city council could hear our cry—our hopes, wishes, desire for what space can be used for.

Aaron Clark-Rizzio- Legislative Director for Councilman Jason Williams
• The space in question is bounded on one side by Perdido St. and the other by 1-10
• The land is zoned heavy industrial, but the sheriff must go through the city council and the city planning commission to obtain a conditional use permit in order to be allowed to build more jail buildings on that land
• This process would require 2 public hearings. One with the City Planning Commission and the other with the City Council
• There is robust dialogue going on within City Council around the use of this land that doesn’t suggest the Sheriff’s path is clear

(An organization focused on ending the criminalization of LGBTQ population in New Orleans with a particular focus on the black community and specifically trans women)
• The vision is to give energy to those who are criminalized via a space focused on reentry, community building, direct services and self-determination
• 1st floor will house offices dedicated to providing reentry services to incarcerated people, access to housing, job placement, etc.
• 2nd floor will house a teaching café where people can learn to use food as a community builder, two rooms to house people who are transitioning back into society after being incarcerated, and a community space for people to eat and live together
• 3rd floor will house a lounge area for youth and a strategic focus group area for gatherings targeting specific areas of struggle for people trying to reenter society
• Programming and development area for learning and growing, recreational space

Mid City Neighborhood Organization: MCNO
(Association dedicated to improving the quality of life of all midcitizens)
• Open to new ideas for what can go in the space
• Support the idea of workshops, government offices, etc that could service the newly revitalized Tulane Corridor
• MCNO will remain a committed partner in opposing the expansion of OPP

Santos Alvarado from The Congress of Day Laborers
(Organization of day laborers building a power base for workers rights)
• The Congreso has been involved in opposing the expansion of the jail because if it is expanded the sheriff will implement policies to fill it up
• The Spanish speaking community is particularly concerned because of struggles they have had with Gusman violating civil rights and holding people for extended unconstitutional periods for ICE (immigration) reasons
• Congreso supports the idea of building a school, hospital or recreational space that will benefit the community and is committed to opposing the expansion

John Burkhart from the Louisiana Campaign for Equal Justice
(An organization dedicated to ensuring the fair funding of Orleans Public Defenders)
• OPD is drastically underfunded and rent is a substantial expense for them
• OPD would be a good fit because they need to be close to the inmates, the courts and the sheriff to hold them accountable
• The space should house a group that is ready to defend Louisiana’s most vulnerable populations who are entitled to representation

Women With A Vision –Desiree Evans
(Organization serving marginalized women and their families)
• Louisiana’s incarceration rate is the worst in the country, but women are often ignored although we are the 3rd largest incarcerator of women
• Envision shelter, place for social services, addressing issues like child-care, and adequate housing, education and living wage employment
• Substance abuse counseling, mental health and reentry programs for women who are exiting the jail with no services directed at them
• There should be a place where women can come to have these issues addressed. A one-stop-shop

Community Education Project of New Orleans- Ashana Bigard and Ruth Idakula
(A group doing education justice work with new teachers, students and parents)
• Children as young as 8 years old are being arrested regularly for youth behavior and status offenses which are probation violations and being sent to jail
• The criminalization of youth behavior and poverty (i.e.- uniform infractions) is creating a school to prison pipeline where children are sent to juvenile court and jail
• These are our children going to this jail.
• We oppose the expansion of a third facility

Derek Rankins from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
(Group dedicated to identifying the causes of and undoing racism in our society)
• A community space led by formerly incarcerated people would be revolutionary
• If it’s led by people who have never been imprisoned it’s likely that they’ll burn out
• Formerly incarcerated leadership is important for accountable gatekeeping in the process to regain our humanity

Lila Arnaud
• Economic development is key. The space should be self-sustaining and profitable to the community by selling services or products
• Led by an advisory board of formerly incarcerated people that decides how the space functions
• Workshops, skillshares and community forums held in the space
• Space will house community businesses that earn revenue to be reinvested as seed money for community ventures
• Democratic profitable community owned space aimed at “teaching people how to fish”

Books to Prisoners: Steve Merlan
(Organization founded in 2003 that sends books to prisons in the Southeast)
• Have worked with OPP to try to send books, but the inmates say the have nothing to read. The prison is withholding the books we give them
• We would like to see a usable library in the space

Safe Streets, Strong Communities: Larry Green
(Organization dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system to create safer communities)
• Space should house advocacy services for people coming out of OPP
• Counseling on alcohol and drug abuse and anger management
• Assistance in navigating the court system to avoid fees and violations upon reentry

Janet Hayes
• Moving people with mental health needs into Charity Hospital facility would eliminate the sheriff’s need to build Phase III to house people with mental illness
• The space could house a workers cooperative so inmates or ex-offenders can make real money to help ease the financial transition back into society
• Examples of this from prisons around the world… prison coop brewery in Italy

Bruce Walzer
• We shouldn’t give the sheriff the opportunity to take over that space and spend more of our tax dollars.
• VERA or OPD would do well in that space

VOTE: Norris Henderson
(An organization aimed at ending the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people)
• Those with direct access could be on the 1st floor (VERA and OPD)
• Those doing community service on the 2nd floor, advocacy work on the 3rd
• A law library so people can understand the nature of what they’ve been charged with

Hope House: Brother Don Everard
(An organization dedicated to living and working with the poor and working for justice and dignity)
• Should be a space of healing… an antidote to the misery that exists in the prison
• Intentional community of people (maybe mix of formerly incarcerated and others)
• Trees and gardens, playground, chapel and playroom, place to rest, eat and drink

Feedback from folks with ideas they didn’t get a chance to share on the mic

• Campaign: Turn the Bridge to Nowhere into a Bridge to Freedom – “If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s where you’ll end up.” (Lila Arnaud)
• I’m interested in having a youth organizing space where Rethink could operate. I don’t work for them but believe their work is crucial to the future of this city.
• Garden for food – fresh food & flower market. Gardens help with trauma and PTSD. Can be a coop and a skill they take out into the world.
• Check out Decarcerate PA’s “Instead of Prisons” campaign!
• OPPRC should support an open process in which former inmates and the surrounding community have a say in how that space will be used

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3 Responses to Take Back the Land Forum Notes 7-8-14

  1. Pingback: The most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state considers expanding notorious jail | Alt Left Press

  2. Pingback: The most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state considers expanding notorious jail - The Miami Valley Progressive Caucus

  3. Pingback: New Orleans considers expanding notorious jail | All-len-All

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