Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Years After the DOJ Calls Conditions at OPP Unconstitutional, Billboard on I-10 Calls for Action at Orleans Parish Prison

From our friends at the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition:
Exactly two years after the Department of Justice issued it’s September 11, 2009 report that found a practice of the violation of civil rights of individuals held at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) launched a new phase of its public education campaign for reform of the jail, with a billboard on I-10 and the announcement of a series of community forums. The billboards include a set of five rotating messages, including support for a smaller jail of no more than 1438 beds, an end to the per-diem system, and immediate action by the Department of Justice to improve conditions at the facility.
The recommendation for a smaller facility comes after national experts and a Criminal Justice Working Group convened by Mayor Landrieu determined that, through the implementation of reforms including pre-trial services, reducing racial disparities in lengths of detention, and increasing the use of citations in lieu of minor arrests, a jail of 1438 beds could be sufficient for the City of New Orleans. While the City Council approved a replacement jail of this size in February 2011 following this recommendation, there is significant work that remains for the full implementation of these reforms. According to Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE, an OPPRC member organization, “The city needs to move aggressively towards implementing the types of reforms considered by the Criminal Justice Working Group, which when completed can be a beacon of pride for the city. Similar reforms have been demonstrated in other cities to improve public safety, to reduce jail populations, and to save invaluable taxpayer dollars. New Orleans can do it as well.”
OPPRC is also calling for an end to the per diem system, or the funding of the jail through payment by the City for each individual held daily in OPP. While the per diem is $22.39 per inmate, the actual cost is over $30 daily, including the additional costs of health care and staffing paid by the City to the Sheriff. This will cost the city $27.5 million this year. As stated by Mayor Landrieu at the August 9th District B Community Budget meeting, “If we pay (the Sheriff) per person, per day, the argument is he has an incentive to keep more people. What we really need to do is ensure that he keeps only the number that we need him to keep and no more.” New Orleans is the only major US city in the United States that finances its jail through a per diem system. As stated by Dana Kaplan, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), “Given both the perverse incentive that the per diem creates to incarcerate more people and the fact that $22.39 per person is insufficient to safely operate a jail, there should be no obstacle this budget cycle to ending the outdated per diem system and transitioning to a performance based approach to funding OPP.”
Finally, in the wake of sweeping reform of the New Orleans Police Department and two years after their initial findings that the jail consistently violates the civil rights of people held in its care, OPPRC is also calling for the Department of Justice to take action to improve conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. Since their report was issued in September 2009, conditions have only deteriorated and thirteen more people have died in the custody of the jail.
On September 20th the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition will be hosting a public forum, for all community members concerned about conditions at OPP and related issues to have an opportunity to speak and offer recommendations for reform. The forum will be held from 6 – 8 pm at the Mahalia Jackson Center in Central City, located at 2405 Jackson Avenue. Representatives from the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have been invited to attend.

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