Take Back the Land: A Call To Action Community Forum July 7, 2014

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) will hold a community forum on Tuesday July 8 at 6:30 pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at 2903 Jefferson (@ Claiborne). The forum will focus on discussion of the best use for a lot of land at 2900 Perdido. The land is owned by the city, and located between the kitchen and the new 1438-bed jail facility being built by the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

 

After a brief presentation about the lot, OPPRC has invited over a dozen community groups to share their dreams and visions of how the site could be used in a way that would help make New Orleans a safer, healthier, and more just community. Open mic time will also be included for attendees at the forum to share their own ideas or comment on what has been shared by others.

Take Back The Land OPPRC July 2014

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has long held plans to build a so-called Phase III building on the 2900 Perdido site; these plans for additional inmate beds were documented in recent court filings. This is despite a 2011 City Ordinance advocated for by OPPRC and other community groups that limited the size of the new jail being constructed to 1438 beds and required that the new facility be built to accommodate the needs of all inmates. The Ordinance was passed unanimously by City Council. All City Councilpersons have been invited to attend Tuesday's forum and some have already confirmed their participation.

 

OPPRC has argued for a cap on prison beds because prisons do not make a community safe but are instead themselves criminogenic, causally linked to violence and crime on New Orleans streets. If there are more beds to fill, the police and Sheriff will fill them and continue the trend of incarcerating and imprisoning mass amounts of people, perpetuating a country-wide epidemic, of which New Orleans is the epicenter. OPPRC argues that instead of building more beds, money that the city saves through reducing the size of the jail should be used for funding employment creation and job training programs, libraries, community centers, mental health and substance abuse services, after school programs, youth and recreation programs, cultural activities and economic development opportunities, etc. all things proven to be more effective in creating safer communities and families. Tuesday's forum will provide an opportunity for the community to dream about these alternatives to more prison beds.

 

Transportation and childcare will be available for attendees of Tuesday night's forum. For more information, contact oppreform@gmail.com or call 504-264-2189.


You can RSVP via facebook here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/592985364149635/

 

OPPRC Criticizes Theme of Louisiana Museum Fundraiser as In Bad Taste

October 31, 2013

 OPPRC Criticizes Theme of Louisiana Museum Fundraiser as In Bad Taste,

Calls for Lecture Program on Impact of Mass Incarceration

 The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) recently learned of the fund-raising event “ Big Easy Speakeasy ” sponsored by the Louisiana Museum Foundation scheduled for Nov. 2, 2013.

The goal of the event is to raise funds to support Louisiana state museums, which is a worthy cause. What is not so worthy is the theme of the event, which is described as “An arresting experience with Jails, Jazz, and Bonnie & Clyde.” The banner headline for the event is “INCARCERATED For One Night Only!” and features several “notorious duos”, including the “lead Honorary Chair Criminal Masterminds” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson. Prominent citizens and museum supporters are listed as “Bail Bondsmen” and “bail donations are being sought for the release of these notorious duos”. Louisiana Museum Foundation Fundraiser

This gala event is taking place at a time when the City of New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate of any city in the United States, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the U.S. and the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.

 Since April, 2006, 42 people have died in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO), many under highly questionable circumstances.

 OPP is currently under a federal consent decree including court monitoring and oversight due to the unconstitutional conditions at the jail. Conditions at OPP were recently found to “offend contemporary notions of human decency” in federal court proceedings. In June, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk concluded that OPP is “an indelible stain on the community.” Both the size of the jail and the financial cost of operating such a dysfunctional system are currently issues of great public concern and public hearings in front of the New Orleans City Council.

 In addition, there is a disparate impact of over-incarceration on the African American community, poor people, the mentally ill and those struggling with substance abuse issues. One of seven African American men in the City of New Orleans is under some kind of criminal justice system control, i.e., jail, prison, probation or parole. Many individuals in our jails and prisons suffer from mental illness and substance abuse issues. Instead of providing treatment or alternatives to incarceration, our state is closing down hospitals, slashing education and filling our jails and prisons at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. The human cost of over-incarceration has been devastating to families and our community.

 And in the midst of all of this, the Louisiana Museum Foundation has chosen to use the theme of jails and incarceration as a “fun” event to raise money to support the state museums.

 The OPPRC has issued a public flyer “Incarceration is Not a Joke” criticizing the “incredibly bad taste” of this fund-raising event, and urging those involved with the event to take this opportunity to educate themselves about the pressing issues facing our City regarding over-incarceration and the horrendous conditions in our jail.

 OPPRC has also urged contributors to the Museum Foundation to make matching donations to the pre-trial services program of the Vera Foundation and/or the Orleans Public Defenders Office, which recently had to lay off staff and remains seriously underfunded. Organizations like Vera and the Orleans Public Defenders are critical to insuring that persons presumed innocent of an offense who are not a danger to the community or a risk of flight, are provided with reasonable pre-trial release conditions rather than being locked up for months awaiting trial in our notoriously dangerous jail.

 In addition, Museum supporters are urged to support an exhibit and lecture program to travel throughout the state, about the history and impact of incarceration in Louisiana.

 “It is disappointing that an organization such as the Louisiana Museum Foundation, and prominent political leaders of our city and state would sponsor and participate in such an ill-advised, insensitive event”, said Don Everard, a spokesperson for OPPRC. “ The devastating impact of Louisiana’s over-incarceration system on minority, poor and other vulnerable communities, is not funny. It concerns us that there is not a deeper awareness of the painful history of incarceration in our city and state, as well as the serious issues confronting us today regarding the appalling conditions of the Orleans Parish Prison. We have asked to meet with the Louisiana Museum Foundation Board, as well as Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Council President Jackie Clarkson to express our concerns and discuss these matters further”

 The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) is a group of concerned organizations and individuals from diverse political, economic and cultural backgrounds who represent a broad sector of the New Orleans community who have come together to advocate for a smaller jail and the reallocation of funds from incarceration and detention to building the infrastructure of a caring community.

Media Contact: Don Everard (504) 523-7495

oppreform@gmail.com

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 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.

Mayor Plays Political Games at Our Peril

STATEMENT FROM ORLEANS PARISH PRISON REFORM COALITION  April 18, 2013Mayor Plays Political Games at Our Peril

We, the members of Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) are appalled by the latest political theatrics of our elected officials with regard to the deadly conditions in Orleans Parish Prison. OPP is in crisis, and has been for more than 30 years. The impending Consent Decree would force the City *and* the Sheriff to finally do the right thing and make the changes necessary to ensure the safety of staff and inmates in a facility that now boasts over 700 assaults each year. However, instead of supporting the consent decree, our Mayor and his attorneys have engaged in the worst kind of hypocrisy, denying that conditions in OPP are unconstitutional while at the same time, claiming that things are so bad that the court should place the jail in federal receivership. The political chess game which is playing out in both the media and in U.S. District Court is a slap in the faces of the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters incarcerated in OPP, and the families of the 41 people who have died there in the last 8 years. It is also a threat to all New Orleanians, because we are all made unsafe by our dehumanizing, unconstitutional jail.

“Knowing the personal stories of young people, many of them gay and transgender, who have been raped in OPP, set on fire, had their jaws broken, and been charged with attempted escape for running from their attackers- we are outraged that the City is stalling reforms in OPP. We must make immediate changes to all the institutions that are criminalizing and brutalizing our most vulnerable New Orleanians,” said Milan Alexander, Youth Organizer for BreakOUT! and OPPRC member.

Mayor Landrieu’s request for a receivership last week is clearly a red herring, intended to drag out the Consent Decree process and avoid both financial and political responsibility. During his entire administration, the Mayor has had ample opportunity to take action on the appalling conditions at OPP.* In September 2010, OPPRC organized over 300 people who contributed to the cost of taking out a full page advertisement in the Times-Picayune  demanding that the City’s leaders take responsibility and adopt two very basic reforms — ending the per diem and building a smaller capacity jail — which would improve the situation in OPP. Recognizing the fallacy of arresting our way to public safety, the City Council unanimously voted in February of 2011 to cap new jail construction at 1,438 beds. In November of that same year, OPPRC delivered a petition with over 2,000 signatures calling upon the Mayor to put an end to the Sheriff’s per diem funding system, which serves as a perverse incentive to incarcerate, and to support the 1,438 bed cap.

Instead of endorsing these measures, the Mayor’s office continued private email conversations with Sheriff Gusman to build additional beds and proposed budgets to the council in 2011 and again in 2012 that continued to include per diem funding for the jail. Once again, in 2012, prompted by growing reports of rape and assaults in OPP, concerned residents gathered outside of City Hall to protest Mayor’s apparent indifference and to remind him of his responsibility to ensure that city funds were not subsidizing violations of fundamental human rights. By this point, it had been sufficiently documented that conditions at OPP were so dangerous that all federal inmates were ordered removed. Once again, the Mayor did nothing.

"I voted for Mayor Landrieu and generally I support him. But his misguided efforts to drive a wedge in this troubled city between "good" folks and the folks in OPP concern me greatly,” said Reverend Melanie Morel-Ensminger, Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans & North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society. “As a person of faith, as a white person striving to be antiracist, as a proud life-long New Orleanian, I say those inside OPP *are* New Orleanians, our brothers and sisters, deserving decent care and humane treatment, no matter what they are accused or convicted of."

The Consent Decree represents countless hours of community commitment to improve conditions at OPP, and is the first step for any meaningful reform. But without admission of wrongdoing, it will only be a piece of paper. The reams of legal briefings filed by the Mayor and Sheriff abdicating responsibility and pointing fingers at each other only prolongs the suffering of fellow New Orleanians incarcerated there. This is also true of the racially charged language being exchanged by our elected officials.

OPPRC would like to make it clear that jail size, funding, and conditions are deeply and fundamentally racial. Subhuman conditions at OPP are intimately tied to the value that we as a city assign to African American life, and our staggering incarceration rate is fundamentally about our society’s fear of Black people. Whether Black or White, when public officials act with indifference for the harm being done to Black people, we must ask ourselves whose interests they serve. Racial justice demands more of both the Mayor and of the Sheriff.

We are in a state of perpetual and untenable crisis. In terms familiar to New Orleanians, the storm at OPP has escalated to “category five” status. It’s time to evacuate.

With a renewed sense of urgency we demand that persons held on non-violent charges — who, by law, would be set free in the event that a Category 3 hurricane were in the Gulf — be immediately released from Orleans Parish Prison. These individuals pose no threat to the community, but conditions in the jail do pose a significant threat to their lives.

“We, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, have been pushing for a safer, smaller, more humane jail since 2004. We cannot wait any longer!”

*The Department of Justice published its report on Conditions in OPP in September of 2009.