Community Demands for Decarceration in the Response to the Coronavirus COVID-19

Dear Elected Officials of the City of New Orleans,

As the COVID-19 pandemic drastically alters our lives and endangers our community, people in jails and prisons are among those at greatest risk by the spread of the virus. In line with CDC recommendations and the governor's ban on large gatherings, we must swiftly reduce the number of people incarcerated in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) before it becomes a public health catastrophe for our community.

As concerned citizens, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, along with the undersigned organizations, call upon our elected officials to immediately enact an en banc order, by the authority of the Criminal District Court Chief Judge Karen Herman, to immediately release (1) people who are being held pretrial who fall into the high-risk categories defined by the CDC, (2) people held for outstanding fines and fees, (3) people arrested for misdemeanor offenses (4) people arrested for a non-violent crime that, under Louisiana statute, would not require a mandatory prison sentence if convicted, and (5) people who are detained on a probation or parole hold, based on an arrest for a non-violent crime for which they would not be mandated to serve a prison sentence if convicted, and who are otherwise in compliance with the terms of their probation or parole.

This action is urgent and necessary for the following reasons:

  1. This is a time of crisis. Louisiana has documented its first deaths from the coronaviruses and there are clear indicators of spread within the New Orleans community. During hurricane Katrina, inmates were left for dead as water rose within the OPP. We fear that the coronavirus will make these groups’ detention into a death sentence similar to the time when inmates were abandoned in OPP. You have the power to prevent this.

  2. Our community members inside of the jail are human and deserve to be treated humanely. The lack of access to adequate medical care in the jail is notorious and well documented. The jail is already under a federal consent decree due to inhumane conditions, lack of quality medical care, and improper sanitation, and the most recent jail monitor report indicates that the facility continues to struggle with health care for those inside. The coronavirus crisis will undoubtedly exacerbate the conditions inside OPP, underscoring the need to release people from the facility. We demand that their safety, dignity, and health be prioritized in this time of crisis. 

  3. Carceral facilities are incubators for infectious diseases, and the situation inside OPP will affect our community’s health on both sides of the jail’s walls. In addition to inadequate access to sanitary and hygiene products, imprisoned people are unable to follow CDC guidance such as social distancing to protect themselves and those around them and to “flatten the curve.” People on the inside of the jail will return to our community, including those who are currently incarcerated, OPSO staff, and visitors. Their health will determine our health as a city.

In past emergencies, such as when a Category 3 storm has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans has released people from OPP as a public safety measure. This pandemic is an emergency and requires the same amount of attention to preserve the safety of our community members. The Orleans Public Defenders have sent a letter to officials imploring the New Orleans Police Department to halt arrests as part of the effort to stem the spread of the virus, and many other organizations have issued similar demands. We stand with them in sending one message: other cities are making significant changes to their justice system to minimize risk for their communities. Some jails have released hundreds of inmates due to coronavirus concerns. New Orleans must act decisively and quickly do the same.

Sincerely,

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)


Undersigned Organizations

Andrea Armstrong, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans

Abolition Apostles Jail & Prison Ministry

ACLU of Louisiana

BARE NOLA

Birthmark Doula Collective

Black Man Rising

BreakOUT!

Eye on Surveillance

Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Formerly Incarcerated Transitions (FIT) Program

Foundation for Louisiana (FFL)

Free-Dem Foundations, Inc.

Hagar’s House

Hope House

Innocence Project New Orleans

Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative

Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans

Jewish Voice for Peace

Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana (JAC)

Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights

Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center

Louisiana Survivors for Reform

Mid-City Neighborhood Organization (MCNO)

Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans

New Orleans Safety and Justice Community Advisory Group

New Orleans Social Medicine Consortium

Newcomb Prison Project (NPP)

New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)

New Orleans Hospitality Worker Committee 

NOLA to Angola

Operation Restoration

Orleans Public Defenders (OPD)

Our Voice Nuestra Voz 

Peace by Piece New Orleans

Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ)

Project Ishmael

Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)

Rethink

Shift Change

Sisters for Christian Community

Solitary Gardens

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

Southerners on New Ground (SONG)

Step Up Louisiana

The ReEntry Mediation Institute of Louisiana

Women With A Vision (WWAV)

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Ubuntu Village

William P. Quigley, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans