From our friends at the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition:
The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), a varied group of individuals and organizations from all over the New Orleans community, is concerned by the lack of transparency from the Criminal Justice Working Group, a Mayoral-appointed body charged with evaluating Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plan to expand the Orleans Parish Prison.
The OPPRC has expressed three key reservations about the Working Group’s process:
1) Lack of attention and opportunity for public input, lack of transparent process. After months of deliberations and with minimal input from the New Orleans community, two public hearings have finally been scheduled to generate community input about the OPP expansion plan. However, the planning for these public hearings has been logistically disorganized—from the lack of timely public notification, to a last minute change of date, to indeterminate venues—and the public has not had access to information such as published proposals, updated budgets, blueprints, designs and regular progress reports. This disorganization and lack of information reduces the opportunity for a cross-section of the population to provide input about a project that could cost taxpayers as much as $250,000,000. Additionally, the OPPRC is concerned that the public will not have an opportunity to review and give input to the recommendations of the Working Group before these recommendations are turned over to the Mayor.
2) The Working Group does not have essential information required to make an informed opinion. The OPPRC contends that it is unacceptable that a publicly funded project that would directly affect the lives of thousands of people could advance without basic information about the jail’s construction cost, financing, operating costs, total prisoner capacity, and use of capacity upon completion. The Working Group has not been provided, or has yet to disclose, an explanation on the total number of prisoners by group the project intends to incarcerate. It is still unclear as to whether the jail will house state or federal prisoners and if so, how many. Further, with NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ recent announcement that the NOPD will no longer arrest people with outstanding warrants for non-violent offenses, there is an expected decrease in prisoner length of stay. There has been little consideration, if any, of data on jail sizes in comparable cities around the country, nor has any alternative to the Sheriff’s proposal been sought. The Working Group must factor into its recommendations specific figures related to arrest procedures, prisoner classification, national best practices and prison size. This information is crucial if the Working Group is to make informed and reliable recommendations on the efficacy of the proposed OPP expansion.
3) There is not enough time for the Working Group to deliberate. The Working Group plans to issue its recommendations on the OPP expansion project on November 22nd, 2010. This timeline does not allow the Working Group to generate sufficient public input nor does the timeline engender public trust in the Working Group’s capacity to incorporate the basic information necessary to make informed recommendations.
The OPPRC calls for a third public hearing with at least two weeks public notice and confirmed date, times, and venue before the Working Group submits its recommendations to Mayor Landrieu. Additionally, in preparation for this meeting, the public should have access to up-to-date planning and financial documents, proposals, and reports, including the recently completed “Jail Population Projections Study Base Projection and Alternatives” report furnished by Dr. James Austin.