No Jail Expansion: 1,438 Bed Cap

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina left a wake of destruction in New Orleans, including at the Orleans Parish Prison. As plans to replace the damaged jail buildings were made public. OPPRC seized the opportunity to push New Orleans to rethink incarceration.

In 2010 Sheriff Gusman’s proposal to build a nearly 6,000 bed facility to replace the storm‐damaged buildings using FEMA funds was made public. In response, OPPRC mobilized New Orleans residents to demand city officials consider the costs of continuing to incarcerate people at five times the national average. As a result of the public pressure, the Mayor formed a Working Group to investigate the size of the proposed new jail. That working group recommended the new jail be capped at 1,438 beds. And, as a result of citywide organizing efforts, a city ordinance was unanimously passed in 2011 that capped the new jail at 1,438 beds, mandated that the jail accommodate all inmates, and required old jail buildings be decommissioned.

However, in building the new jail, known as the Orleans Justice Center (OJC), which opened in September 2015, Sheriff Gusman failed to build a building that could constitutionally accommodate all inmates. As a result, Sheriff Gusman has continuously tried to expand the jail beyond the 1,438-bed cap by advocating for an additional jail building (known as Phase III) with several hundred more beds to accommodate special populations, including people with serious mental illnesses.

Today, conditions inside the Orleans Justice Center are dangerously unconstitutional. Under court-order,  the City and the Compliance Director of the jail are required to submit a plan for housing “special populations” by December 1, 2016–plans that will either involve renovating the existing building, to stay within the 1,438 cap as required by city ordinance, or expanding the jail.

Expanding the jail is not the answer to the dangerous and inhumane conditions inside OPP. A smaller jail is a safer jail. A constitutional jail can be reached within the 1,438 bed cap–and New Orleans already has more than enough jail beds.

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