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)

OPPRC Urges Mayor to Evacuate OPP Now!

close up evacuate oppMembers of Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) presented Mayor Mitchell Landrieu with a letter today urging him to declare the jail a state of emergency, thus triggering the release of people being held in Orleans Parish Prison who would also be released in the event of a hurricane. The letter was presented to Mayor Landrieu during a city press conference marking the start of hurricane season at the Port of New Orleans. While presenting the Mayor with the letter outlining the need for emergency release, OPPRC members and supporters formed a circle and sang and prayed for the safety and well being of all of those being held in the jail.  An altar at the center of the circle remembered all those whose lives have been lost in OPP.  There have been 41 deaths at Orleans Parish Prison in the last eight years. Last year, at least 700 assaults and 32 stabbings occurred at OPP. An average of 50 to 60 jail inmates are rushed to the hospital each month.

“Many of the people currently in OPP are charged with minor, non-violent crimes and 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,” said Yvette Thierry. “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.”

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition is a diverse coalition of community organizations and concerned individuals who have been campaigning since 2004 to make OPP a smaller, safer, and more humane jail. In 2011, OPPRC held two community forums with Department of Justice officials in attendance. OPPRC also campaigned against a proposed expansion of OPP using FEMA money and was successful in urging City Council to pass an ordinance in February 2011 in support of a 1438 bed cap on the size of the jail. The ordinance included a requirement that all current buildings must be decommissioned and demolished after completion of the new facility. OPPRC is also working to end the per diem funding at the jail which offers a perverse incentive to incarcerate more people in a city that already incarcerates more people per capita than any other place in the world.

Check out the materials included in the press packet for this event.