OPEN LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL RE: COMMUNITY OPPOSITION TO OVER-INCARCERATION AND THE ILLEGAL OPERATION OF THE TEMPORARY DETENTION CENTER

November 29, 2017

Dear Members of City Council,

We, the undersigned organizations through the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), write to convey our commitment to the 1,438 bed cap of the jail, our concern about the current operation of the Temporary Detention Center (“TDC”) in violation of local zoning law, and support for an ordinance to address over-incarceration that supports the City’s agenda of decreasing the incarceration rate from near twice the national average.

We call on our City Councilmembers to use their legal authority to pass, within 90 days, an ordinance to address over-incarceration, which would provide for the incremental release of people who do not pose a threat to public safety. This would eliminate the need to operate any additional jail beds beyond the 1,438-bed cap by ensuring that the jail population stays well below the capacity of the jail at all times. This ordinance would further the collaboration already in place with the City’s jail population reduction strategy while eliminating the need to operate TDC.

At the City Council Meeting on May 18th 2017, members of the Council, the City Attorney, and Judge Johnson publicly committed to establishing a strategy to address over-incarceration which would provide for the incremental release of people detained in the jail who pose no risk to a victim or to the public at large. Councilmembers made a commitment to the public that the aforementioned ordinance would be introduced within two weeks. Ms. Dietz also stated that she already had a draft of such an ordinance. Six months later, no such ordinance has been introduced. Yet, in the meantime, TDC was reopened in violation of local law; this is an unacceptable solution the problem of mass incarceration.

Instead, we call upon our council to permanently limit the number of people incarcerated in the jail so that there is never a need for a “temporary overflow” facility. Such an initiative is not without precedent. Members of the Council referenced Jefferson Parish’s Code Six in which people who are deemed low risk are released once the jail reaches a certain population. New Orleans has a similar release mechanism when the city is posed with the threat of a Category 3 storm, through which anyone charged with a misdemeanor (except domestic violence and weapons charges) is released from jail. Passing this ordinance and ensuring that procedures are followed would need to be a collaborative effort among criminal justice actors. However, as was stated at the May Council hearing, the Council has the authority to pass and enforce an ordinance to address over-incarceration; passing such an ordinance is a matter of political will.

According to Ordinance No. 24282, TDC was required to be demolished and decommissioned in April 2017. Although a motion to amend this ordinance was introduced in May, the ordinance has not yet been amended, and under current law TDC should not be open. We understand that after TDC was closed, the facility was reopened in July 2017 to allow people to return to New Orleans from facilities outside of the parish. However, ensuring that people are not jailed out of parish could also be achieved through an ordinance that would ensure that there is no “overflow” population and no need to operate TDC. Operating TDC is a major step backwards in the City’s efforts to reduce the jail population. Prioritizing the release of those who do not need to be in jail would permit the return of those being held out of parish while eliminating the estimated expense of $2.8 million annually from City’s budget to operate 200 beds in TDC.

The undersigned are calling on City Council to pass an ordinance that permanently limits the number of people in the jail and ensures that TDC is permanently decommissioned and demolished as per local law. We are calling on City Council to follow through, within 90 days, on their commitments made to the public in May. OPPRC is prepared to take further legal action to remedy the unlawful operation of TDC should this not occur.

This Council has shown bold leadership and a commitment to reducing mass incarceration. And yet, New Orleans still incarcerates residents at nearly twice the national average in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. The jail remains one of the most dangerous in the country; earlier this month, Evan Sullivan died while in custody in TDC, following the death of Narada Mealey just days before. Nobody should die in jail, let alone in a jail facility that is unlawfully operated. We urge this Council to make good on their promises to the public and take the abovementioned steps to permanently reduce the number of people incarcerated in New Orleans.

Sincerely,

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition

Undersigned organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU of LA)

ATD Fourth World

Birthmark Doula Collective

BYP100 New Orleans Chapter

Call to Action NOLA

Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR)

Congress of Day Laborers

European Dissent

Family and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Greater New Orleans Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition (GNOISC)

Healing Minds NOLA

Hope House

Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans

Mid City Neighborhood Organization (MCNO)

Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO)

National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Louisiana

New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee (NOPSC)

The New Orleans People’s Assembly

New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)

Orleans Public Defenders (OPD)

OUR Walmart

Positive Living Treatment Center (PLTC)

The Power Coalition

Project Detour

Rethink

Stand with Dignity

Step Up Louisiana

Take ‘Em Down NOLA

Tulane-Canal Neighborhood Association

Ubuntu Village

Women With a Vision (WWAV)

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Voters Organized to Educate

 

 

Via Hand-Delivery and Email

To:

Councilmember Stacy Head, At-Large

Councilmember Jason Williams, At-Large

Councilmember Susan Guidry, District A

Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, District B

Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, District C

Councilmember Jared Brossett, District D

Councilmember James Gray II, District E

 

CC:

Mitch Landrieu, Mayor

Gary Maynard, Compliance Director

Rebecca Dietz, City Attorney

Judge Calvin Johnson, Criminal Justice Commissioner

Jared Munster, Director of Safety and Permits

 

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