Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition was founded in 2004 by local individuals and organizations who came together to demand changes at the Orleans Parish Prison as the city was poised to elect a new sheriff. OPPRC created a Nine Point Platform for Change at Orleans Parish Prison and asked sheriff’s candidates to endorse and adopt that platform. Several candidates signed off on the platform, including Marlin Gusman, who was elected later that year a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. At that time, the jail population was roughly 6,300.
The Fight – Safer, Smaller, More Humane
Following Katrina, in 2010 Sheriff Gusman’s proposal to build a nearly 6,000 bed facility to replace the storm‐damaged buildings using FEMA funds was made public. In response, OPPRC mobilized New Orleans residents to demand city officials consider the costs of continuing to incarcerate people at five times the national average. As a result of the public pressure, the Mayor formed a Working Group to investigate the size of the proposed new jail. That working group recommended the new jail be capped at 1,438 beds. And, as a result of citywide organizing efforts, a city ordinance was unanimously passed in 2011 that capped the new jail at 1,438 beds, mandated that the jail accommodate all inmates, and required old jail buildings be decommissioned. OPPRC successfully fought for the decommissioning and demolition of the old jail buildings and for the end of the per diem funding system, which was eliminated in 2014.
In addition, OPPRC was instrumental in raising awareness of the violent, deadly, and unconstitutional conditions inside Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). In 2009, the Department of Justice released a report finding conditions in OPP to be unconstitutional. In 2012, OPPRC organized several community forums about the conditions inside the jail with representatives from the Department of Justice, which eventually led to a federal consent decree over the jail in 2013.
The Fight Continues
Today, the Orleans Justice Center remains substantially out of compliance with the 2013 consent decree. Sheriff Gusman continues to seek to expand the jail beyond the 1,438-bed cap by advocating for an additional jail building (known as Phase III) with several hundred more beds to accommodate special populations, including people with serious mental illnesses. Amidst this landscape many individuals and organizations contine to advocate for changes in our criminal justice system.