Call/Email your City Council representative and tell them to Shut Down TDC and Evacuate OPP!

OPPRC delivered an Open Letter asking the City to close the Temporary Detention Center (“TDC”) by following through on a promise made six months ago to pass an ordinance that would permanently limit the number of people in the jail. This launched the Coalition’s campaign to permanently close TDC—a facility that was unlawfully reopened after the law mandated its decommissioning in April. Limiting the number of people in jail ensures that the jail population remains below the capacity and eliminates the need to operate a facility for "temporary overflow." Let councilmembers know that New Orleans does NOT need more jail beds! Download the TDC Fact Sheet for more information and talking points!

Call/Email Script

Below is a sample call/email 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 pass an ordinance that limits the number of people detained in the jail. New Orleans already incarcerates at nearly twice the national average in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. Rather than investing $2 million to operate a temporary detention center, we need you to ensure that these funds are being invested into community programs that will truly keep us safe and reduce the number of people in jail. Please follow through on the promises made by members of this Council in May made and pass an ordinance  to limit over-incarceration.

City Council Contact

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

Jason Williams

Councilmember-At-Large

jasonwilliams@nola.gov
(504) 658-1070

Stacy Head

Councilmember-At-Large

shead@nola.gov
(504) 658-1060

LaToya Cantrell

District B

lcantrell@nola.gov
(504) 658-1020

Susan Guidry

District A

sgguidry@nola.gov
(504) 658-1010

Nadine Ramsey

District C

districtc@nola.gov
(504) 658-1030

Jared Brossett

District D

councildistrictd@nola.gov
(504) 658-1040

James Gray

District E

jagray@nola.gov
(504) 658-1050

OPEN LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL RE: COMMUNITY OPPOSITION TO OVER-INCARCERATION AND THE ILLEGAL OPERATION OF THE TEMPORARY DETENTION CENTER

November 29, 2017 Dear Members of City Council,

We, the undersigned organizations through the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), write to convey our commitment to the 1,438 bed cap of the jail, our concern about the current operation of the Temporary Detention Center (“TDC”) in violation of local zoning law, and support for an ordinance to address over-incarceration that supports the City’s agenda of decreasing the incarceration rate from near twice the national average.

We call on our City Councilmembers to use their legal authority to pass, within 90 days, an ordinance to address over-incarceration, which would provide for the incremental release of people who do not pose a threat to public safety. This would eliminate the need to operate any additional jail beds beyond the 1,438-bed cap by ensuring that the jail population stays well below the capacity of the jail at all times. This ordinance would further the collaboration already in place with the City’s jail population reduction strategy while eliminating the need to operate TDC.

At the City Council Meeting on May 18th 2017, members of the Council, the City Attorney, and Judge Johnson publicly committed to establishing a strategy to address over-incarceration which would provide for the incremental release of people detained in the jail who pose no risk to a victim or to the public at large. Councilmembers made a commitment to the public that the aforementioned ordinance would be introduced within two weeks. Ms. Dietz also stated that she already had a draft of such an ordinance. Six months later, no such ordinance has been introduced. Yet, in the meantime, TDC was reopened in violation of local law; this is an unacceptable solution the problem of mass incarceration.

Instead, we call upon our council to permanently limit the number of people incarcerated in the jail so that there is never a need for a “temporary overflow” facility. Such an initiative is not without precedent. Members of the Council referenced Jefferson Parish's Code Six in which people who are deemed low risk are released once the jail reaches a certain population. New Orleans has a similar release mechanism when the city is posed with the threat of a Category 3 storm, through which anyone charged with a misdemeanor (except domestic violence and weapons charges) is released from jail. Passing this ordinance and ensuring that procedures are followed would need to be a collaborative effort among criminal justice actors. However, as was stated at the May Council hearing, the Council has the authority to pass and enforce an ordinance to address over-incarceration; passing such an ordinance is a matter of political will.

According to Ordinance No. 24282, TDC was required to be demolished and decommissioned in April 2017. Although a motion to amend this ordinance was introduced in May, the ordinance has not yet been amended, and under current law TDC should not be open. We understand that after TDC was closed, the facility was reopened in July 2017 to allow people to return to New Orleans from facilities outside of the parish. However, ensuring that people are not jailed out of parish could also be achieved through an ordinance that would ensure that there is no “overflow” population and no need to operate TDC. Operating TDC is a major step backwards in the City’s efforts to reduce the jail population. Prioritizing the release of those who do not need to be in jail would permit the return of those being held out of parish while eliminating the estimated expense of $2.8 million annually from City’s budget to operate 200 beds in TDC.

The undersigned are calling on City Council to pass an ordinance that permanently limits the number of people in the jail and ensures that TDC is permanently decommissioned and demolished as per local law. We are calling on City Council to follow through, within 90 days, on their commitments made to the public in May. OPPRC is prepared to take further legal action to remedy the unlawful operation of TDC should this not occur.

This Council has shown bold leadership and a commitment to reducing mass incarceration. And yet, New Orleans still incarcerates residents at nearly twice the national average in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. The jail remains one of the most dangerous in the country; earlier this month, Evan Sullivan died while in custody in TDC, following the death of Narada Mealey just days before. Nobody should die in jail, let alone in a jail facility that is unlawfully operated. We urge this Council to make good on their promises to the public and take the abovementioned steps to permanently reduce the number of people incarcerated in New Orleans.

Sincerely,

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition

Undersigned organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU of LA)

ATD Fourth World

Birthmark Doula Collective

BYP100 New Orleans Chapter

Call to Action NOLA

Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR)

Congress of Day Laborers

European Dissent

Family and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC)

Greater New Orleans Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition (GNOISC)

Healing Minds NOLA

Hope House

Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans

Mid City Neighborhood Organization (MCNO)

Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO)

National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Louisiana

New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee (NOPSC)

The New Orleans People’s Assembly

New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)

Orleans Public Defenders (OPD)

OUR Walmart

Positive Living Treatment Center (PLTC)

The Power Coalition

Project Detour

Rethink

Stand with Dignity

Step Up Louisiana

Take ‘Em Down NOLA

Tulane-Canal Neighborhood Association

Ubuntu Village

Women With a Vision (WWAV)

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Voters Organized to Educate

 

 

Via Hand-Delivery and Email

To:

Councilmember Stacy Head, At-Large

Councilmember Jason Williams, At-Large

Councilmember Susan Guidry, District A

Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, District B

Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, District C

Councilmember Jared Brossett, District D

Councilmember James Gray II, District E

 

CC:

Mitch Landrieu, Mayor

Gary Maynard, Compliance Director

Rebecca Dietz, City Attorney

Judge Calvin Johnson, Criminal Justice Commissioner

Jared Munster, Director of Safety and Permits

 

Open Letter in Response to Proposed Jail Expansion

   

 

Dear Members of City Council,

We, the undersigned organizations through the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), write in response to the Supplemental Compliance Action Plan filed on January 4, 2017 by Compliance Director Gary Maynard. We wish to convey our firm commitment to the 1,438-bed cap of the jail, and our opposition to any jail expansion in excess of that cap. Our position is grounded in our commitment to improving conditions for people with mental illnesses, and in improving public safety through ending over-incarceration. We call upon our City Council representatives to use their authority to support a Phase III with no additional beds, support a retrofit of Phase II to constitutionally house those with mental illnesses who must be incarcerated, and oppose the renovation of the Temporary Detention Center (TDC), in order to truly improve safety for residents inside and outside of jail.

The responsibility of ensuring that the Orleans Justice Center does not expand beyond 1,438 beds lies with the City Council. According to the Stipulated Order for Appointment of Independent Jail Compliance Director, which tasked the Compliance Director with developing a plan for special populations, “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 the use of that plan.” Additionally, under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), a federal judge cannot order the construction of a jail building.[1] Finally, according to Ordinance No. 24,282, construction of additional jail buildings will require a conditional use permit with final approval from City Council, and any operating budget associated with Director Maynard’s plan also requires the approval of City Council. Thus, City Council has the authority and responsibility to ensure that no additional jail beds are constructed; doing so is a matter of the political will of our elected Councilmembers. Below is our response to Director Maynard’s plan, as well as suggestions for an alternative plan for housing Special Populations in the jail.

The undersigned are adamantly opposed to the addition of 89 more beds in the Phase III building, which would significantly undermine the City’s efforts to reduce mass incarceration and improve public safety. As members of the Council are aware, New Orleans incarcerates its residents at nearly twice the national average in a country that has the highest incarceration rate in the world.[2] The City of New Orleans has made significant progress in reducing mass incarceration, and has committed to reducing the jail population to 1,277 by 2018 through the Safety and Justice Challenge.[3] There is no long-term need to build more jail beds, and approving this proposed expansion would be a major step backward.[4]

While we share a deep concern for the condition of people with acute mental illness in the jail, Phase III is an inappropriate way to care for people with severe mental illnesses, who do not belong in jail. Providing constitutional conditions in the existing jail can be achieved through a smart retrofit of Phase II facilities to safely house people until they can be transferred to a hospital. City money used to operate a mental health jail is money that could be spent on mental health treatment in the community, to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system to begin with, and to care for them when they are released. As we have seen through too many deaths of people with mental illness in the jail, jail is an unsafe environment for people with mental illnesses, and can exacerbate existing mental health conditions.[5] A mental health jail is not a true or appropriate “solution.”

Furthermore, the details and costs for the recommendation remain ambiguous, and to support a plan without adequate details is irresponsible. Based on the limited information available, it could cost an estimated $2.2 million annually, at least, to operate the 89-bed part of the Phase III building, according to estimates from the Vera Institute of Justice. Although the costs of Phase III are obscure, the human costs of investing in the infrastructure of mass incarceration are known. Destabilizing families and communities is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and does not contribute to public safety.

In addition, we oppose the proposed renovation of the Temporary Detention Center (TDC) for 200 “overflow” beds for several reasons. First, TDC is not a solution to bringing those held out of parish back to Orleans parish, as it was intended. Currently, there is inadequate staff for the existing Phase II facility, and it will take several months at minimum to reach appropriate staffing levels for an additional facility. Secondly, opening a facility for an “overflow” population creates a dangerous precedent, and undermines the city’s efforts to reduce its incarceration rate; the City instead should prioritize releasing those who do not need to be in jail, rather than opening an “overflow” facility. [6] Thirdly, it will cost an estimated $2.8 million annually to operate 200 beds in TDC, and because FEMA funds are not available to renovate TDC, renovation expenses will likely come out of the City’s budget. Thus, it is irresponsible to invest so much of the city’s resources into a temporary building that does not adequately address the problem it was intended to solve; instead, energy, resources, and attention should be shifted towards reducing the number of people who do not need to be in jail.

Though we oppose the 89-bed expansion and the renovation of TDC, we applaud several aspects of Director Maynard’s recommendation, in particular, his recommendation for an infirmary, additional attorney visitation rooms, and additional family visitation rooms. These recommendations will greatly enhance the safety and wellbeing of those held in OPSO custody, will ensure that cases are processed more quickly, and will help people who are incarcerated maintain their relationships and connections to their family and community.

 The undersigned wish to propose that City Council take the following position: 1) support a Phase III building, with the auxiliary services proposed by Director Maynard, without any additional jail beds, 2) support a retrofit of Phase II to constitutionally house those with mental illnesses who must be incarcerated, and 3) oppose the renovation of TDC, and instead focus resources on reducing the jail population. City funds spent operating both TDC and the 89-bed facility in Phase III could cost upwards of $5 million annually, in addition to the renovation costs associated with TDC. This money could be better spent investing in de-carceration efforts, as well as mental health treatment outside of the jail.

New Orleans residents were promised that the new jail facility would be capped at 1,438 beds and would eliminate the violence and neglect that plagued OPP. And yet, the recent deaths in the Orleans Justice Center are a tragic illustration of the dire need to oppose an expansion of the jail in the name of mental health. Just two weeks ago, Colby Crawford, who had a history of serious mental illness, died while in custody at the Orleans Justice Center while awaiting trial after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. Preliminary reports show that not a single deputy was on the tier at the time of his death. Hours before his death, the family of Cleveland Tumblin filed a lawsuit against jail officials after Mr. Tumblin, who suffered from bipolar disorder, committed suicide in the jail last year.

Neither of these two men should have ever been incarcerated in the first place. The recommendation for an expansion further exacerbates many of the factors that led to these deaths, including the critical staffing shortage. In no way does it make sense to expand the jail as a solution to the atrocious conditions inside. Jail is an inappropriate and dangerous place for people with serious mental illness, and we oppose any jail expansion in their name.

Sincerely,

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition

Undersigned organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana

ATD Fourth World

BreakOUT!

Congress of Day Laborers

Fight for $15

Healing Minds Nola

Hope House

Project Detour

Stand with Dignity

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Women with a Vision (WWAV)

 

 

To:

Councilmember Stacy Head, At-Large

Councilmember Jason Williams, At-Large

Councilmember Susan Guidry, District A

Councilmember LaToya Cantrell, District B

Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, District C

Councilmember Jared Brossett, District D

Councilmember James Gray II, District E

Cc:

Compliance Director Gary Maynard

Mayor Mitchell Landrieu

Federal Judge Lance Africk

 

[1] Section 802, subsection C of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 states that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the courts, in exercising their remedial powers, to order the construction of prisons or the raising of taxes, or to repeal or detract from otherwise applicable limitations on the remedial powers of the courts.”

[2] Calvin Johnson, Mathilde Laisne, and Jon Wool. Justice in Katrina’s Wake: Changing Course on Incarceration in New Orleans. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2015.

[3] Schirmer, Sarah. "Jail Population Management Subcommittee Of The Sanford “Sandy” Krasnoff Criminal Justice Council January 30, 2017". 2017. Presentation.

[4] Mathilde Laisne, Theresa McKinney, Rose Wilson, Corinna Yazbek. New Orleans: Who’s in Jail and why? First Quarterly Report. Vera institute of Justice, 2016.

[5] “Deaths in OPP-2009 to present.” Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition. https://opprcnola.org/the-context/timeline-of-deaths-in-opp/. Accessed March 8, 2017.

[6] According to the recent Vera Report, “Past Due: Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans,” in 2015 over 550 people on any give day were in jail because they couldn’t pay bail or were arrested for unpaid fines and fees. The City of New Orleans invests significant resources incarcerating people who do not need to be in jail, and who pose no danger to themselves or to society.

Bail Ordinance Unanimously Passed by City Council

On January 12, 2017, New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a municipal bail reform ordinance that eliminated money bail for most municipal charges. OPPRC has been advocating for municipal bail reform for nearly two years. OPPRC applauds the City Council in taking on this important issue. While this ordinance is an important step towards righting the injustices of the justice system, much work remains to be done towards ensuring that nobody is incarcerated simply because they are poor.

Call your City Councilmember to thank them for their leadership in this issue, and to encourage them to oppose the recommended jail expansion.

Hi, my name is __________, and I'm a resident and voter in District______. I'm calling to thank you for voting for municipal bail reform.  This ordinance is an important step in righting the injustices of our justice system. I am also calling to encourage you to oppose the recommended jail expansion, in order to continue to reduce mass incarceration in New Orleans. Thank you for your leadership.

Statement on Jail Expansion Plans

OPPRC opposes the decision to expand the jail, a decision which flies in the face of what New Orleans residents have demanded, and what our leaders have publicly committed to doing. For many years, New Orleans residents have voiced a clear and unwavering commitment to reducing the incarceration rate in New Orleans. In just the past two months, an overflowing Town Hall saw every single public comment opposed to jail expansion, and over 100 community members attended a vigil across from the jail, with many New Orleans residents choosing to sleep out overnight to make their outrage clear. In addition, over the course of only one month, over 1,000 people signed a petition in opposition to a jail expansion. Mental health officials, criminal justice specialists, and New Orleans residents clearly and overwhelmingly oppose construction of a new jail building and any increase in the jail population. Furthermore, the decision to expand the jail is in direct opposition to the public commitments our leaders have made to reduce mass incarceration in New Orleans. The decision comes at the same time that the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge grant, awarded to the City of New Orleans to shrink the size and population of the jail, funds the Sheriff’s Office, City Council, New Orleans Judges, the Police Department, Probation and Parole, the DA, and the Orleans Public Defenders.  The City of New Orleans maintains “final authority and approval” over expenditures related to this plan. We call upon Mayor Landrieu and City Council to use their authority to make the right decision: refuse to fund this plan to expand the jail.

 

Open Letter to Mayor Landrieu re: Opposition to Jail Expansion

  Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu

Office of the Mayor

1300 Perdido St.

New Orleans, LA 70112

mayor@nola.gov

 

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[1] 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 adina@vote-nola.org or at (917) 837-7343.

 

Sincerely,

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)

Undersigned organizations:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana

ATD Fourth World

BreakOUT!

Congress of Day Laborers

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

Fight for $15

Healing Minds Nola

Hope House

Stand with Dignity

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)

Women with a Vision (WWAV)

 

 

 

 

 

[1] New Orleans, La., Ordinance no. 24,282 M.C.S. (Feb. 3, 2011)

An Open Letter Regarding Community Oversight

July 21, 2016

To:

  • Marlin Gusman, Orleans Parish Sheriff
  • Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans
  • Stacy Head, Jason R. Williams, Susan G. Guidry, LaToya Cantrell, Nadine M. Ramsey, Jared C. Brossett, James A. Gray III, City Council of New Orleans
  • The Honorable Lance Africk, Eastern District of Louisiana
  • Katie Schwartzmann, Elizabeth Cumming, Emily Washington, Eric Foley, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center
  • Rebecca H. Dietz, City Attorney, City of New Orleans
  • Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., Theodore Carter III, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Louisiana
  • Vanita Gupta, Steven H. Rosenbaum, Laura L. Coon, Kerry K. Dean, Corey M. Sanders, US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division

 

To Whom It May Concern:

On May 18th, 2016, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) along with several other organizations filed an amicus brief in the Jones v. Gusman lawsuit. The amicus brief asked Judge Africk to create an independent community based oversight board with real authority to monitor conditions of confinement in Orleans Parish Prison, whether receivership be granted or not. This motion was denied, and an agreement concerning receivership was reached.

According to the terms of the agreement, an Independent Compliance Director with final authority to oversee the jail will be tasked with bringing the jail into substantial compliance with the Consent Judgment. It is OPPRC’s belief that without meaningful transparency and community oversight, long-term, sustainable, humanistic care cannot be provided. Given the absolute need for more transparency and accountability to the community in the actual operation and oversight of the New Orleans jail, we request the following:

  • A public meeting to inform community members of the details and terms of the receivership agreement, and to provide a space for questions and input. Given that a search for a Compliance Director is already underway, this public meeting should occur as soon as possible.
  • A public Compliance Director interview process, whereby community members may interview potential candidates for Compliance Director. This may occur in the form of a candidates’ forum or town hall.
  • The creation of a process through which the public may submit feedback and input during the search for Compliance Director.
  • The appointment of community representatives to liaise between community members and officials involved in the Compliance Director search process. These representatives should reflect the communities that are most impacted by the operations and conditions of the jail and therefore have deep knowledge and expertise of the issues at hand.

Community involvement over the Compliance Director search process is just the beginning of a process of creating greater oversight over our jail. For over 10 years, OPPRC has been heavily involved in campaigns to reform jail conditions and shrink our jail size in order to create a safer and more just New Orleans. We ask that citizens be included as partners in the process of making our jail safer, smaller, and more humane. This is just the first step, and we stand ready to work with any and all parties to implement it.

 

Sincerely,

Donald Chopin, Member of VOTE

Yvette Thierry, B.S. in Criminal Justice, MA Candidate

On Behalf of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)

 

OPPRC Statement on Jail Compliance Director

Last week, a federal judge announced the terms of the agreement reached between Sheriff Marlin Gusman and plaintiffs in the Consent Decree over the jail (including inmates in the jail, the City of New Orleans, and the US Department of Justice).  According to the terms of the Receivership Settlement, a Compliance Director will oversee operations of the jail and has final authority over budget, contracts, personnel, and policies. Though the sheriff may offer advice and give approval, the Compliance Director has final authority and answers to the court. OPPRC remains committed to a safer, smaller, more humane jail. We continue to advocate for community oversight, to advocate for the safety of all who are inside OPP, and to oppose the expansion of our jail system with an additional jail building. We believe appointing a Compliance Director with authority over the jail is an important step towards a safer, smaller jail.

As Sheriff Gusman “relinquishes control over the jail,” our demands for a safer, smaller, more humane jail, one that is operated transparently with the input of the community, remain unchanged.

Grassroots Organizations Propose Community-Based Oversight over Jail

By Mariama Eversley “The jail is still not in compliance. And the sheriff wants more buildings, more beds, but that is not the solution.” said Beverly Greer at a press conference the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) held in front of Federal Court last Wednesday in advance of the receivership hearing that may relieve Sheriff Marlin Gusman of his power. Greer spent three days trapped in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) with no air conditioning, food, or water in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “we need more community oversight so we can know what’s really happening inside” she said along with other families who testified about the poor and inhumane conditions in the jail citing preventable suicides and loved ones dying in restraints. From 2009 to the present, 29 people have died while in custody in OPP.

The OPPRC along with 9 other community organizations echoed these remarks in their amicus brief and petitioned the court to create an independent community based oversight board that could challenge ongoing violence and neglect plaguing the jail. Although Judge Africk already rejected the measure, the body would maintain the authority to, “subpoena and compel any and all testimony and any and all documents necessary to perform its responsibilities to participate in overseeing conditions of the jail.” Using the guiding principal that those closest to the problem are the closest to the solution, the board’s composition would be reflective of community members most impacted by incarceration.

Although community oversight boards of local jails are a rarity, its proponents say the criminal justice system in the world’s prison capital merits exceptional solutions. Norris Henderson Founder and Executive Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender says community oversight could address the wall of secrecy integral to prison culture, “I tell people all the time this about prisons: those fences are not to keep people in, they’re to keep people out”. Armed with official mechanisms Henderson believes oversight could improve the treatment of inmates, “It’s not like I’m going to come and run the jail for you,” he said explaining the board’s intentions, “it’s checks and balances so that when…the jail is saying ‘ain’t nothing going on wrong’ but the medical staff is saying ‘we’re stitching up people every day’ well, that’s because there’s no oversight. With community oversight, somebody would be in there every day, or two to three times a week fact finding.”

Cycles of Violence

While the sheriff’s lawyers claims the office needs more time to reach compliance, others say 2 ½ years is enough. Sister Rfuaw Diarra, a member of Families and Friends of Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), recounted at Wednesday’s press conference the medical neglect and isolation her son endured during his incarceration in the newly opened jail, “In the new jail, he was locked down for 20-22 hours a day. The food was still awful, and they didn’t feed him enough. When he said that he needed something for his asthma, or that his pump was empty, or he needed pain medicine for his gunshot wound, he would be ignored.” Despite the construction of the Orleans Justice Center, the sheriff’s department remains less than 10% compliant of the federal consent decree issued in 2013.

The persistent violence in New Orleans jails is not contained within its walls. Local advocates for criminal justice reform say many conflicts that end in bloodshed on the street begin inside the jail. Brother Don, a member of OPPRC and Executive Director of HOPE house says the experience of incarceration itself is a violent one and expressed the need for a community presence to counter feelings of desperation, “When you’re confined, told what you need to do, and punished for what you do wrong, you have very little control over your feelings and your emotions. The jail is going to be a violent place… the only way around it is to treat people different.” In a word, the state violence of jail makes a violent city. In the long run supporters of the community based oversight board envision a smaller, safer, and humane jail yielding a safer and more humane City of New Orleans.

 

Press Release: Community Organizations Call for Community Oversight over Jail

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.”

 

 

 

Press Release: OPPRC, Religious Leaders, Demand Sheriff Gusman’s Resignation

 

Press Release

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, Religious Leaders, Demand Sheriff Gusman’s Resignation

New Orleans, LA—Several prominent faith leaders, in collaboration with the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) held a press conference at 11:00am on March 21, 2016 in front of the new jail to demand that Sheriff Marlin Gusman resign from office immediately, citing the pervasive culture of violence and neglect in the new jail.

The latest federal consent decree over OPP has been in place since 2013. The federal court-appointed jail monitors testified last month that the new jail, which has been opened since September 2015, is far from safe, despite Sheriff Gusman’s promises that conditions would improve in the new jail facility. In the first three months in the new jail, the monitors reported that there were over 150 incidents (119 of which had not been reported), including over 200 assaults, 16 attempted suicides, 44 uses of force (of which only 20 were reported), 3 sexual assaults, and one death from a chronic illness. The first 33 days of 2016 logged 114 incidents in the new jail, and just two weeks ago Cleveland Tumblin died of self-inflicted injuries in the jail. And now Sheriff Gusman paid $1.7 million to settle the lawsuit of yet another inmate who committed suicide in the prison. Despite paying the large settlement, the sheriff denies responsibility for the death.

“The culture of violence and neglect that has plagued OPP continues into the new jail. Awaiting trial at Orleans Parish Prison is no less of a death sentence than it used to be,” said Norris Henderson, a member of OPPRC and the Executive Director of VOTE. “We have waited 12 years for the changes Gusman promised, and now we are demanding that he get out of the way so that the changes our community needs can finally be implemented.”

The participating ministers say, " We are not willing to continue supporting a sheriff who continues to mismanage our jail, and who seeks to add more beds to a jail that already warehouses too many of our community members."

“We would not be responsible leaders if we allowed irresponsible things to happen to our community. This is about the violence and destabilization that members of our community face in there. As we celebrate passion week, isn’t it divinely ironic that we as leaders don’t want to repeat the errors of Pontius Pilate and wash our hands as our brothers and sisters are being crucified in the Orleans Parish jail.

 

 

The jail monitor's report can be found here:

Support OPPRC's proposed bail ordinance!

Many people sit in our jail simply because they are too poor to pay a small bond.  Some will never be charged with a crime, some charged will not be convicted, and of those convicted, many will not be sentenced to incarceration. OPPRC is advocating for an ordinance that would modify the city’s bail practices so that people no longer sit in jail awaiting trial for low-level, non-violent municipal charges because they are too poor to pay their bond or hire a bail bondsman. Under the ordinance, all persons charged with non-violent municipal offenses would be released on their own recognizance (ROR) or on an unsecured bond. Those that are arrested for crimes of violence are required to have a hearing on their release within 24 hours. At that hearing, non-financial release conditions (such as a restraining order or assessment by a substance abuse treatment facility) may be imposed. The ordinance ensures that nobody is held in jail pre-trial for municipal offenses solely because they do not have enough money to bond out.

Why is the ordinance important?

Currently, very few defendants are released on their own recognizance (ROR) or an unsecured bond.  As a result, they spend time in jail simply because they are poor or working class.  This has serious negative effects on people’s lives.

  • People held in pretrial detention immediately lose their freedom, and often their jobs, their homes, their families, their health, and community ties. In this way, a relatively minor arrest can destabilize an entire family, placing children in foster care, leaving an entire family homeless or rendering a previously stable person homeless and unemployed.
  • Numerous studies have found that African American defendants receive substantially higher bonds—often 35% or more—than white defendants with similar situations. African American and Latino defendants are 2 times more likely than white defendants to be held on bail amounts they could not afford.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by court-related costs. According to a 2014 report on the costs of incarceration by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 83% of the family members who were primarily responsible for court-related costs were women.

 

For more information, please see this one-page fact sheet, a longer fact sheet, and a visual illustrating how municipal pre-trial detention currently works and how it would work if the ordinance were passed.

To support the ordinance, please sign on to this declaration of support, and sign this change.org petition to let City Council know you support these reforms!

Take Back the Land Forum Notes 7-8-14

Notes from OPPRC Take Back the Land Community ForumJuly 8th 2014 Unitarian Universalist Church

Welcome from Norris Henderson- Founding Member OPPRC • There is a green space between the new jail being built and the already built kitchen at OPP. The sheriff wants to build phase III of his jail facility on it despite the fact that the consent decree mandates a cap of 1,438 jail beds. There is nothing on that space now. • We are gathered to hear ideas from folks in the room re: what the community can envision this space can be used for instead of 500 new jail beds • Notes representatives in attendance from Jason Williams, LaToya Cantrell & Susan Guidry's office • Some of these ideas could catch fire and city council could hear our cry—our hopes, wishes, desire for what space can be used for.

Aaron Clark-Rizzio- Legislative Director for Councilman Jason Williams • The space in question is bounded on one side by Perdido St. and the other by 1-10 • The land is zoned heavy industrial, but the sheriff must go through the city council and the city planning commission to obtain a conditional use permit in order to be allowed to build more jail buildings on that land • This process would require 2 public hearings. One with the City Planning Commission and the other with the City Council • There is robust dialogue going on within City Council around the use of this land that doesn’t suggest the Sheriff’s path is clear

BreakOUT! (An organization focused on ending the criminalization of LGBTQ population in New Orleans with a particular focus on the black community and specifically trans women) • The vision is to give energy to those who are criminalized via a space focused on reentry, community building, direct services and self-determination • 1st floor will house offices dedicated to providing reentry services to incarcerated people, access to housing, job placement, etc. • 2nd floor will house a teaching café where people can learn to use food as a community builder, two rooms to house people who are transitioning back into society after being incarcerated, and a community space for people to eat and live together • 3rd floor will house a lounge area for youth and a strategic focus group area for gatherings targeting specific areas of struggle for people trying to reenter society • Programming and development area for learning and growing, recreational space

Mid City Neighborhood Organization: MCNO (Association dedicated to improving the quality of life of all midcitizens) • Open to new ideas for what can go in the space • Support the idea of workshops, government offices, etc that could service the newly revitalized Tulane Corridor • MCNO will remain a committed partner in opposing the expansion of OPP

Santos Alvarado from The Congress of Day Laborers (Organization of day laborers building a power base for workers rights) • The Congreso has been involved in opposing the expansion of the jail because if it is expanded the sheriff will implement policies to fill it up • The Spanish speaking community is particularly concerned because of struggles they have had with Gusman violating civil rights and holding people for extended unconstitutional periods for ICE (immigration) reasons • Congreso supports the idea of building a school, hospital or recreational space that will benefit the community and is committed to opposing the expansion

John Burkhart from the Louisiana Campaign for Equal Justice (An organization dedicated to ensuring the fair funding of Orleans Public Defenders) • OPD is drastically underfunded and rent is a substantial expense for them • OPD would be a good fit because they need to be close to the inmates, the courts and the sheriff to hold them accountable • The space should house a group that is ready to defend Louisiana’s most vulnerable populations who are entitled to representation

Women With A Vision –Desiree Evans (Organization serving marginalized women and their families) • Louisiana’s incarceration rate is the worst in the country, but women are often ignored although we are the 3rd largest incarcerator of women • Envision shelter, place for social services, addressing issues like child-care, and adequate housing, education and living wage employment • Substance abuse counseling, mental health and reentry programs for women who are exiting the jail with no services directed at them • There should be a place where women can come to have these issues addressed. A one-stop-shop

Community Education Project of New Orleans- Ashana Bigard and Ruth Idakula (A group doing education justice work with new teachers, students and parents) • Children as young as 8 years old are being arrested regularly for youth behavior and status offenses which are probation violations and being sent to jail • The criminalization of youth behavior and poverty (i.e.- uniform infractions) is creating a school to prison pipeline where children are sent to juvenile court and jail • These are our children going to this jail. • We oppose the expansion of a third facility

Derek Rankins from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (Group dedicated to identifying the causes of and undoing racism in our society) • A community space led by formerly incarcerated people would be revolutionary • If it’s led by people who have never been imprisoned it’s likely that they’ll burn out • Formerly incarcerated leadership is important for accountable gatekeeping in the process to regain our humanity

Lila Arnaud • Economic development is key. The space should be self-sustaining and profitable to the community by selling services or products • Led by an advisory board of formerly incarcerated people that decides how the space functions • Workshops, skillshares and community forums held in the space • Space will house community businesses that earn revenue to be reinvested as seed money for community ventures • Democratic profitable community owned space aimed at “teaching people how to fish”

Books to Prisoners: Steve Merlan (Organization founded in 2003 that sends books to prisons in the Southeast) • Have worked with OPP to try to send books, but the inmates say the have nothing to read. The prison is withholding the books we give them • We would like to see a usable library in the space

Safe Streets, Strong Communities: Larry Green (Organization dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system to create safer communities) • Space should house advocacy services for people coming out of OPP • Counseling on alcohol and drug abuse and anger management • Assistance in navigating the court system to avoid fees and violations upon reentry

Janet Hayes • Moving people with mental health needs into Charity Hospital facility would eliminate the sheriff’s need to build Phase III to house people with mental illness • The space could house a workers cooperative so inmates or ex-offenders can make real money to help ease the financial transition back into society • Examples of this from prisons around the world… prison coop brewery in Italy

Bruce Walzer • We shouldn’t give the sheriff the opportunity to take over that space and spend more of our tax dollars. • VERA or OPD would do well in that space

VOTE: Norris Henderson (An organization aimed at ending the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people) • Those with direct access could be on the 1st floor (VERA and OPD) • Those doing community service on the 2nd floor, advocacy work on the 3rd • A law library so people can understand the nature of what they’ve been charged with

Hope House: Brother Don Everard (An organization dedicated to living and working with the poor and working for justice and dignity) • Should be a space of healing… an antidote to the misery that exists in the prison • Intentional community of people (maybe mix of formerly incarcerated and others) • Trees and gardens, playground, chapel and playroom, place to rest, eat and drink

Feedback from folks with ideas they didn’t get a chance to share on the mic

• Campaign: Turn the Bridge to Nowhere into a Bridge to Freedom – “If you don't know where you're going, that's where you'll end up.” (Lila Arnaud) • I'm interested in having a youth organizing space where Rethink could operate. I don't work for them but believe their work is crucial to the future of this city. • Garden for food – fresh food & flower market. Gardens help with trauma and PTSD. Can be a coop and a skill they take out into the world. • Check out Decarcerate PA's “Instead of Prisons” campaign! • OPPRC should support an open process in which former inmates and the surrounding community have a say in how that space will be used