The recent death of Orleans Parish Prison inmate Willie Lee should refocus our attention on improving the safety and security of all inmates housed in the Orleans Parish Prison.
We know from direct experience many of our clients do not feel safe or secure in the various jail facilities in Orleans Parish.
Dozens have made visits to the ER from injuries sustained while in OPP. Many areas of the jail are unmanned or simply poorly monitored by personnel well enough to ensure basic inmate safety.
We appreciate the immediate actions taken by the sheriff when notified of a direct threat or specific safety concerns.
However, more needs to be done to secure the entire population before these threats and safety concerns arise. In order to put the appropriate resources necessary to ensure the health and safety of all OPP inmates, the jail population should be reduced to reflect the safest ratio of OPP personnel to inmates.
Most people in the jail now are there pre-trial on bond — not because they pose a risk to the community or a risk of flight but because they are too poor to make bail.
If OPP were less crowded with people who pose a minimal risk, the jail would be better equipped to handle crises, violence and inmate health. By reducing the jail population to a number that can be safely and securely managed, a safer environment for both the inmates and prison personnel is achieved.
We need to focus on establishing a right-sized jail by utilizing cheaper and safer alternatives to detention. One way to accomplish this is to expand electronic monitoring and investing in the infrastructure needed to actually monitor those under supervision. This will help reduce the jail population and save the city money.
chief district defender, Orleans Public Defenders