In 2004, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition formed in order to advocate for the much-needed reform of Orleans Parish Prison. Using the upcoming election of a new sheriff as a tool, we developed a Nine-Point Platform for Change, disseminated it throughout the community, held two public candidate forums and asked each candidate for sheriff to pledge to abide by it.
The platform’s nine points were: full compliance with all consent decrees, the establishment of an independent monitor, ending unlawful detention, ensuring proper access to legal counsel, eliminating juvenile detention at OPP, expanding educational access within the jail, providing adequate discharge planning to reduce homelessness, compliance with federal standards regarding immigrant detainees, and employee training management.
Marlin Gusman signed on to the platform and eventually was elected sheriff.
In 2014, Sheriff Gusman was re-elected. New commitments included complying with the newest federal consent decree (2013) and adhering to the 1,438 bed cap, as per the city ordinance that was unanimously passed by the City Council in 2011.
Today, nearly 12 years since Gusman took office, few of the campaign promises have been kept. Our jail remains horribly out of compliance with the most recent consent decree, even after the new jail opened its doors. We are far from having community oversight of our jail, and, in fact, the lack of transparency has even alarmed both the jail’s court-appointed monitor and the city’s inspector general.
Shipping hundreds of people awaiting trial in Orleans Parish to other jails hours away from New Orleans has wreaked havoc on their access to lawyers. People are released from jail in the middle of the night, leading to homelessness and a revolving door back to OPP.
The culture of mismanagement and neglect remains deep and deadly. People jailed at OPP are not safe, and staff experience unsafe and unsustainable working conditions. The sheriff continues his efforts to expand the size of the jail. Despite the opening of the new jail, little has changed in how the jail is run.
Again and again, our community has spoken. We have demanded a safer jail and a smaller jail. Through the work of OPPRC and a broad coalition of concerned leaders and community members, we have demanded an end to our city’s incarceration crisis. We fought for the federal consent decree to improve conditions, the end of per diem funding, the decommissioning of old parish jail buildings, and the capping of jail size at 1,438 beds.
We have waited nearly 12 years for the changes promised by Sheriff Gusman; we can wait no longer. Enough is enough!
member, Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition