City Council to Hear Jail Expansion Proposal

On May 11th, at 10 AM the Criminal Justice Committee of City Council is scheduled to hear a presentation about the proposed jail expansion. Let's pack the house and let them know New Orleans does NOT need more jail cells! Check out Facebook.com/OPPReform for details, as City Council meeting dates often change.

Click HERE to download "Debunking the Jail Expansion in New Orleans" for more information and talking points!

Can't make the meeting? Call your City Council representative to let them know you OPPOSE more jail cells! See below:

Call Script

Below is a sample call script you may use when contacting city council.

Hi, my name is __________, and I’m a resident and voter in District______. I’m calling to urge you to say NO the proposed jail expansion, and YES to the retrofit option. New Orleans has the ability to adequately care for people in the jail without increasing the number jail cells—an option that you yourself have supported in the past. Instead of investing in the infrastructure of mass incarceration, I urge you to spend time and resources investing in what will truly keep my community safe—healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, and jobs. Please reject the jail expansion proposal and put the retrofit back on the table in order to keep our communities safe, healthy, and whole. During this election year I will be watching this issue closely.

City Council Contact

If you do not know who your City Council representative is, call the front desk at (504) 658-1000 and ask!

Stacy Head

Councilmember-At-Large

(504) 658-1060

Jason Williams

Councilmember-At-Large

(504) 658-1070

Susan Guidry

District A

(504) 658-1010

LaToya Cantrell

District B

(504) 658-1020

Nadine Ramsey

District C

(504) 658-1030

Jared Brossett

District D

(504) 658-1040

James Gray

District E

(504) 658-1050

OPPRC Calls For Urgent Action in Response to Jail Conditions

OPPRC members and supporters gathered today at Tulane & Broad, then walked several blocks to the OPP Intake & Processing Center.  We called for a moratorium on admissions to a facility where conditions continue to be inhumane, unconstitutional and life-threatening, and we renewed our call for Mayor Landrieu to declare the jail in a state of emergency, thus triggering the release of persons held for minor, non-violent crimes.

We were joined by the family of Willie Lee, the most recent person to die while under custody of OPP. Lee's mother, Margie Lee Hulitt spoke at the protest about the death of her son, including how she was not notified of his death until Sunday evening (close to a day after he died) and still has not been allowed to see his body.  See video here.

The City needs to find other alternatives rather than continuing to house people in an unsafe and violent jail.  We urged Susan Guidry and other members of the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee to take urgent action in an open letter that we released on March 13, 2014. Within ten days of the letter's release another individual died in custody following a fight between prisoners in the jail's temporary housing unit known as "the tents."

The consent decree has not resulted in significant improvement in the conditions in the jail, and the first report of the federal monitoring team found that inmates in OPP “continue to experience severe problems with shoddy medical care, violence and a general attitude of apathy toward their grievances.”

There have been 25 in-custody deaths in OPP since 2009, and up to 73 inmates a month are sent to the emergency room.

Many of the people currently in OPP pose zero risk to public safety- as evidenced by the fact that they would simply be released under hurricane evacuation conditions. Instead, they are held in OPP, on taxpayer’s money, where they are in danger of being beaten, raped, stabbed, or possibly even killed in the jail.  We cannot in good conscience hold people subject to this dehumanizing violence. The City is responsible for their safety. The Mayor has the responsibility to stop this bloodshed.

Call for Urgent Action in response to Dangerous Conditions at OPP

ACTION ALERT ** ACTION ALERT ** ACTION ALERT **

We invite all those troubled by the horribly dangerous conditions at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) to join with OPPRC this Wednesday March 26 at 10 am at the intersection of Tulane & Broad.

When? Wednesday March 26 at 10 am

Where? Tulane & Broad

Why?

  • Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) continues to be an inhumane, unconstitutional and life threatening environment for people who find themselves housed there, as well as for those who work there. The first report of the federal monitoring team found that inmates in OPP “continue to experience severe problems with shoddy medical care, violence and a general attitude of apathy toward their grievances.” There have been 25 in-custody deaths in OPP since 2009. Up to 73 inmates a month are sent to the emergency room due to conditions at the jail, including for lacerations/punctures, fractures/dislocations, trauma, mental health crises, broken bones and sexual assault.
  • OPPRC released an open letter to the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee over a week ago calling for the Committee to hold a hearing to determine steps which the city can take to immediately address the current crisis in OPP. We have yet to receive any response to our letter. You can see the full open letter here.
  • Yet another individual has died in custody since the release of OPPRC's open letter, highlighting that an urgent response is a life and death matter! The death occurred following a fight between prisoners in the jail's temporary housing unit known as "the tents," and it has yet to be revealed whether there were any deputies in the tent at the time of the fight.

What? Join with OPPRC and others in New Orleans to demand urgent action to address the human rights crisis at OPP. Wear red or black if you are able

For more information, contact: Norris Henderson @ 504.453.4819.

Open Letter to Criminal Justice Chair Guidry re: Violence in OPP

Dear Councilmember Guidry, This past Friday, March 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the plaintiffs in Jones, et al. v. Gusman, et al. (i.e., the Orleans Parish Prison Consent Decree lawsuit) filed proposed findings of fact and a number of exhibits with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in preparation for an upcoming court hearing regarding funding of OPP. The documents, among other things, demonstrate that violence at OPP has remained at an unacceptably high level since the lawsuit was initially filed two years ago, and even since the court intervened with its Consent Judgment. Thus, despite apparent attempts to ebb the level of violence at OPP, the violence has continued, and even increased, to the detriment of the individuals being housed in OPP facilities and danger to those who work at the jail.

Reports from January-October 2013 reveal up to 73 inmates a month were routed to the emergency room due to conditions at the jail, including for lacerations/punctures, fractures/dislocations, trauma, mental health crises, broken bones and sexual assault.. Approximately 66 of those are for trauma related injuries. These numbers are in stark contrast to the findings of Judge Africk regarding the Shelby County Jail in Memphis, TN, which has a similar jail population. That facility had just seven emergency routes to hospital emergency rooms for trauma related incidents in a year, meanwhile OPP had hundreds in the same time frame.

The documents filed indicate that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office continues to lack an appropriate classification system, with the effect of mixing persons charged with violent crimes with individuals at risk. Apparently there are still entire tiers at the jail where individuals are being housed which have no guards at all for significant periods of time. In addition, there are inadequate activities and services for inmates, all of which contributes to violence at the jail. Evidently, the widespread availability of weapons and drugs has also contributed to the persistence of violent conditions.

These types of findings are unacceptable months after a federal consent decree and after more than two years of litigation. Though there are some issues that must go before the court before they can be sufficiently addressed, there are steps that can and should be taken immediately to curb levels of violence at the jail. One straightforward and immediate action would be to shut down non-essential operations and re-assign personnel to the jail so that no single tier is left unguarded at any time.

It is also crucial to determine how many inmates can be safely, securely, humanely and constitutionally held right now given the amount and availability of personnel. The jail population should be capped to reflect the safest ratio of staffers to inmates possible. Such a move is not unprecedented, as Jefferson Parish has had a cap on their jail population for years based on space and staffing, and their jail has nowhere near the amount of violence as OPP. There are numerous other options for classifying and housing inmates, such as contracting with other facilities and releasing those who do not pose a threat, to deal with overflow, rather than continue to hold people in a facility that is so obviously unsafe and dangerous.

Councilmember Guidry, the current conditions at OPP are horrendous. Reasonable measures can and should be taken immediately to reduce the level of violence. We are asking that you, in your capacity as chair of the Criminal Justice Sub-Committee of the City Council, call a hearing before your committee, as soon as possible, regarding violence at the jail and to determine steps which the city can take to immediately address the current crisis in OPP. If the jail cannot currently provide adequate staff to prevent the violence, then the City needs to find other alternatives rather than continuing to house people in this unsafe and violent jail. We cannot simply continue to expose individuals who are in custody or individuals who work at the jail to these extremely dangerous conditions. Under current conditions, the jail remains an inhumane, unconstitutional and life threatening environment for citizens of the City of New Orleans who find themselves housed there and for those who work there.

We hope to hear your decision regarding this matter. Please contact us at oppreform@gmail.com or at 504.264.2189. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)

New Orleans Needs Real Reform, Not a Larger Jail

Note:  If you haven't yet made calls to the Mayor or your Councilpersons, it's not too late!  More info here. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 3, 2013

Contact: Norris Henderson 504-453-4819

STATEMENT FROM ORLEANS PARISH PRISON REFORM COALITION

New Orleans Needs Real Reform, Not a Larger Jail

Last week, Mayor Landrieu and Sheriff Gusman announced their intent to add an additional building to the planned construction of the new jail - a move that violates both a 2011 City Council ordinance and the public’s trust. As our elected officials surely remember, that ordinance, which passed unanimously in City Council with an outpouring of public support, limits the number of beds in the new jail facility to 1,438. As members of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) we oppose the building of any additional jail beds beyond the agreed-upon 1,438 cap. To increase the size of the jail at this moment would not only be a blatant disregard of the democratic process, it would be a capitulation to the kind of racialized fear-mongering that has held this city hostage for far too long.

To be clear: the rate at which the city of New Orleans incarcerates is astronomically higher than any other place on earth. To fill a 1,438 bed jail, New Orleans would still need to incarcerate at a rate of double the national average in a country widely agreed to suffer from a crisis of over-incarceration. Although the city is proposing to use FEMA dollars to build the additional facility, the cost of maintaining it indefinitely into the future is one that will fall on taxpayers for generations to come.

Not only is incarceration at these rates unnecessary and costly to the city, it is also dangerous. In a report released on August 29th, the Metropolitan Crime Commission used a current population snapshot to suggest that the new jail will need to be at least 2,200 beds to serve New Orleans’ needs. By treating the size of the prisoner population as fixed, the report forecloses meaningful discussion of reforming the wasteful and inhumane practices that drive up the population. Moreover, the report implies that the population currently incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is made up primarily of violent offenders who, if released, would be a danger to public safety. This is absolutely and unequivocally false. In reality, the vast majority of OPP prisoners are pre-trial detainees who have not yet been convicted of any crime. Of those, many are charged with minor offenses such as drug possession. To paint young men convicted of marijuana possession as rapists and murderers is a deception that is not simply irresponsible: it costs lives.

Our city continues to incarcerate people not based on any danger they pose to the community, but based on their inability to pay bond. This leads to the disproportionate incarceration of poor people of color. About 84 percent of those incarcerated in New Orleans are African Americans. The average length of time spent waiting for trial is 69 days for African Americans and 38 days for whites.

It is long past time our city’s governing officials committed to implementing the reforms needed to responsibly address the current crisis. While the current population at OPP is greater than the 1,438 projected by expert researchers during the planning of new construction, this in no way an indication that we need a bigger jail. Rather, it is a reminder that our city’s criminal justice agencies must be held accountable to implementing policies that will reduce the jail population and increase public safety. Instead of considering the construction of new jail facilities, we urge the Mayor and City Council to consider the current practices of the courts, police, and District Attorney, and to make policy changes that promote pretrial release, diversion, and treatment over arrest and incarceration. We demand that the city fully fund the Pretrial Services program and that our judges be held accountable to making use of that program to make responsible and safe bond decisions. We also urge the city to invest in community-based treatment for people struggling with substance use and mental health issues, rather than building more jail beds for them.

We understand that the road to meaningful reform is long and hard, but we must begin the journey in earnest. Building a larger jail will not solve our city’s problems. Let’s start to talk about what will. As a contribution to that conversation, OPPRC plans to issue an open letter to Mitch Landrieu later this week.

 

 

 

OPPRC Action Alert -- Support the 1438 cap!

Raising our voices (again) in support of the 1438 cap on beds at OPP

Recent media reports and court filings reveal that the Sheriff and Mayor are coming together to advocate that the City change or ignore the 2011 City ordinance that capped the number of beds in Orleans Parish Prison to 1438. Hundreds of community members  packed the City Council chambers, signed petitions, called their councilpersons, etc. in order to get the 1438 cap included in the ordinance approving construction of a new jail building.  Now, we we need to call on you again to stand with us in making sure that our voices are not blatantly ignored.

The city does not need to incarcerate more people to properly care for the people it does incarcerate. In fact, the opposite is the case. It is the responsibility of our Mayor and City Council to ensure a safe and humane jail facility is built without breaking the promises they made to cap the jail's size.

Please contact the Mayor, City Councilpersons, and both at-large Councilpersons to remind them of the importance of the beds being capped at 1438 and to let tell them know that you do not support amending the ordinance to increase the number of beds in the jail beyond that number. Here are phone numbers and emails for the City Councilpersons and the Mayor:

Note: If you aren't sure of your Council district, City Council maps are available here and your ward and precinct #'s are here

What are the advantages of limiting the number of jail beds in Orleans Parish Prison to no more than 1438?

 Currently, Orleans Parish is the national leader in jailing its people. We incarcerate more people per capita than any other city in the US. Even if New Orleans reaches a population of 400,000, the proposed cap of 1438 would still leave us at 43.8% more beds than the national average per capita jail population rate.

 People are being locked up unnecessarily. Many thousands of people who pose little or no public safety risk continue to be arrested and incarcerated for minor offenses, including an inability to pay court costs. Mass incarceration increases social problems including disenfranchisement and despair in formerly incarcerated persons, their families and their communities. Incarceration puts employment and housing at risk, thus resulting in instability and vulnerability. Communities of color are especially impacted by mass incarceration due to documented racial disparities in our prison system.

Mass incarceration diverts public funds from other uses that have been proven more effective at creating a safe community including mental health & drug rehab programs, job training, libraries, community centers, after school programs, youth and recreation programs, affordable housing, cultural activities and economic development opportunities. Every one-bed reduction in OPP saves the city approx $11,900 in operating expenses for the jail. Every dollar that it takes to operate the jail comes from taxpayers. Our high incarceration rate results in fewer breadwinners in our community, fewer tax dollars coming into our city, and greater need for services and support for the families and loved ones of people inside.

 Capping the beds at OPP will work in support of the reforms that are currently being implemented by various actors in the criminal justice system including the police, the district attorney's office, etc. Orleans Parish also needs to fully implement effective Pre-Trial Services & policies like using summons as an alternative to pretrial detention. Building more beds will only undermine these need reforms.

Together we can make sure that New Orleans will no longer be the incarceration capitol of the world!