Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu
Office of the Mayor
1300 Perdido St.
New Orleans, LA 70112
RE: COMMUNITY OPPOSITION AGAINST JAIL EXPANSION TO REMEDY CONDITIONS FOR SPECIAL POPULATIONS AT ORLEANS PARISH PRISON
Dear Mayor Landrieu,
We write to you to request your leadership on an important decision facing the city of New Orleans on December 1 around care for incarcerated “special populations.” We, the undersigned organizations through the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, write to convey our firm commitment to the 1,438 bed cap and opposition to building an additional jail building (Phase III) as a ‘solution’ to remedy conditions for incarcerated “special populations.” We call on the Mayor’s Office to use its legal authority to commit to oppose any options involving the expansion of the jail, and instead support the constitutional option of a retrofitting of the current jail to better care for incarcerated special populations.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world and New Orleans is at the epicenter of the incarceration crisis. After Hurricane Katrina, the Mayor’s Office responded to community calls for a smaller jail and formed a Working Group to explore the size of the proposed new jail. The Working Group recommended the new jail be capped at 1,438 beds. In 2011, New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance mandating that the new jail building be capped at 1,438 beds and be able to accommodate all inmates. Although this rate of incarceration remains 1.5 times the national average, the decision to cap jail beds was a significant and bold step curbing our cycles of incarceration.
Under court order, Compliance Director Gary Maynard and the City of New Orleans have until December 1 to create a plan to remedy conditions for incarcerated “special populations.” We understand that two plans are currently under investigation: retro-fitting the current jail or expanding the jail to specifically incarcerate “special populations” (Phase III). The Phase III option, first proposed by Sheriff Gusman, would increase the number of beds in New Orleans by hundreds, in conflict with local ordinance no. 24,282 and the clearly stated wishes of New Orleans residents. This option may also conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states in § 35.152 that “public entities shall ensure that inmates or detainees with disabilities are housed in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individuals.”
In contrast, a smart retro-fit of a section of the present jail would constitutionally remedy conditions for incarcerated “special populations.” It could accommodate an infirmary for individuals with physical illness or injuries requiring special care, as well as individuals with severe mental health issues who the court deems require incarceration. Such retro-fitting would be less expensive to build and operate and could result in changes for incarcerated individuals in a much shorter period of time, a vital factor considering recent deaths of incarcerated “special populations.”
We understand that Compliance Director Maynard and the City of New Orleans must come to a decision by December 1, 2016. We also understand that the Mayor’s Office has the legal authority to reject an option chosen by the Compliance Director, as set out in the text of the Order on the Role of the Compliance Director stating that: “The City of New Orleans shall maintain final authority and approval over capital expenditures associated with that plan, including use of Templeman II FEMA funding exclusively for implementation of the plan.”
While we maintain that the best option for special populations can only occur outside jail cells and prison walls, expanding New Orleans’ jails to specifically incarcerate “special populations” is the most dangerous option. We supported the city in its decision to put a limit on jail size. We must not move backwards on an issue so unfortunately central to New Orleans’ residents’ lives, and therefore call on our Mayor’s leadership in standing firm on city commitments. The Mayor has the legal authority and community support to firmly oppose any options expanding jail size. We call on you to firmly oppose Phase III jail expansion as the solution to remedy conditions for incarcerated “special populations” and to make this position publicly known to residents in the city of New Orleans. As you know, you have been invited to share your position and hear from the public at a Town Hall meeting on Monday, November 21st, at 4 PM at 2022 St. Bernard Ave.
We are happy to provide more information on these matters, and can be reached through Adina Marx-Arpadi at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (917) 837-7343.
The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana
ATD Fourth World
Congress of Day Laborers
Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)
Fight for $15
Healing Minds Nola
Stand with Dignity
Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)
Women with a Vision (WWAV)
 New Orleans, La., Ordinance no. 24,282 M.C.S. (Feb. 3, 2011)