FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Community Organizations Call for Community Oversight over Jail in Advance of Receivership Hearing
New Orleans- The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), in conjunction with several other organizations, will hold a press conference on Wednesday, May 25 at 7:45 AM outside of Federal Court (500 Poydras Street) to demand community oversight of the jail and highlight the urgent need for changes at OPP. Ten community organizations, including OPPRC, together filed an Amicus Brief in Federal Court last week, in advance of the receivership hearing, asking Judge Africk to appoint an independent, community-based board to oversee the jail. OPPRC and partners proposed that the board would consist of community members most impacted by the operations and conditions in the jail, and that the board would have real authority to permanently monitor conditions in the Orleans Justice Center.
The amicus, which was denied by Judge Africk, was filed by OPPRC, Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE), Women with a Vision (WWAV), Ubuntu Village, The Justice and Accountability Center (JAC), BreakOUT!, Hope House, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), and the Black Youth Project (BYP) New Orleans.
OPPRC said in a statement: “Those that have been most impacted by our criminal justice system are closest to the solutions that will transform it. If Receivership occurs, and the court opts to remove an elected official from office, we need community oversight. And if Receivership does not occur, we need oversight to ensure that our jail is safer, smaller and more humane. It is past time for this to happen.”
The proposal states that the board would have subpoena power and the ability to conduct visits to all areas of the jail. The community oversight board would be responsible for reviewing and analyzing all complaints, internal investigations, internal policies, and data, communicating with the public and media, and making policy and procedure recommendations that would improve conditions of confinement and reinforce the changes that are needed at OPP.
Nationwide, there are over 100 community oversight agencies, although most have focused on oversight over policing. Community boards that oversee jails are rare, although local advocates have argued that the extraordinary circumstances leading to the possibility of receivership over a jail located in the incarceration capital of the world warrant it. OPPRC first proposed the establishment of an Independent Monitor to oversee conditions at OPP in 2004 when it created a Nine-Point Platform for Change at OPP, which Sheriff Gusman signed.
The organizations filing the brief highlighted the urgent need for changes at OPP, demanding the end to the violence in the jail, and reiterating their opposition to Sheriff Gusman’s bid for a larger jail building, known as Phase III. Beverly Greer, an OPPRC member who was incarcerated at OPP during Hurricane Katrina, said “The mildew and mold may be gone but the internal makeup is still prevalent and more so in the new jail building. It’s just a facelift… The jail is still not in compliance. And the sheriff wants more buildings, more beds, but that is not the solution. We need community oversight so we can know what’s really happening inside…. Sheriff Gusman abandoned us during Katrina, and he’s still abandoning us today.”