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
Cap jail beds at 1,438
New Orleans City Council
Orleans Parish Sheriff
Federal Compliance Director
City is in violation of its own ordinance.
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.
Orleans Justice Center
The Orleans Justice Center (OJC) opened in September 2015 to replace OPP. However, Sheriff Gusman failed to build a building that could constitutionally accommodate all inmates. As a result, 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.
What we’ve accomplished:
OPPRC hosted a Town Hall about jail expansion. Members of the public unanimously opposed jail expansion. Compliance Director Maynard, Councilmembers Susan Guidry and Jason Williams, and City Attorney Rebecca Dietz attended. November 21st, 2016
OPPRC filed Amicus Brief in support of 1,438 cap. July 6, 2015
OPPRC delivered a petition with over 1,000 signatures from community members opposed to the jail expansion to members of the City Council, Mayor Landrieu and Director Maynard. December 29, 2016
How much does Jail Expansion cost?
$54 million in FEMA funds are available for replacing damaged mental health facilities. The city’s proposal to retrofit the jail is estimated to cost roughly $6 million, and could be completed in under one year. Estimates for the sheriff’s plan for a Phase III building vary; last year Sheriff Gusman requested $84 million to construct Phase III over a period of three years.
The city has already spent $145 million in FEMA funds to build the Orleans Justice Center. In 2016, the Sheriff’s budget was over $44 million. Operating a jail humanely and constitutionally is expensive, and an additional jail building would further increase operating costs.
What is a Federal Compliance Director?
In April 2016, the Department of Justice, the City of New Orleans, and attorneys representing everyone in the jail (known as the plaintiffs) asked the Federal Judge overseeing the case against the jail to appoint an outside person, known as a Receiver, to take over and operate the jail. The plaintiffs argued that Sheriff Gusman was incapable of bring the jail into compliance with the law, and the federal government needed to intervene. An agreement was reached, and the court appointed a Compliance Director to run the jail. Although the Sheriff may advise and weigh in, the Director has final authority to operate the jail.