Take Back the Land Forum Notes 7-8-14

Notes from OPPRC Take Back the Land Community Forum
July 8th 2014 Unitarian Universalist Church

Welcome from Norris Henderson- Founding Member OPPRC
• There is a green space between the new jail being built and the already built kitchen at OPP. The sheriff wants to build phase III of his jail facility on it despite the fact that the consent decree mandates a cap of 1,438 jail beds. There is nothing on that space now.
• We are gathered to hear ideas from folks in the room re: what the community can envision this space can be used for instead of 500 new jail beds
• Notes representatives in attendance from Jason Williams, LaToya Cantrell & Susan Guidry’s office
• Some of these ideas could catch fire and city council could hear our cry—our hopes, wishes, desire for what space can be used for.

Aaron Clark-Rizzio- Legislative Director for Councilman Jason Williams
• The space in question is bounded on one side by Perdido St. and the other by 1-10
• The land is zoned heavy industrial, but the sheriff must go through the city council and the city planning commission to obtain a conditional use permit in order to be allowed to build more jail buildings on that land
• This process would require 2 public hearings. One with the City Planning Commission and the other with the City Council
• There is robust dialogue going on within City Council around the use of this land that doesn’t suggest the Sheriff’s path is clear

BreakOUT!
(An organization focused on ending the criminalization of LGBTQ population in New Orleans with a particular focus on the black community and specifically trans women)
• The vision is to give energy to those who are criminalized via a space focused on reentry, community building, direct services and self-determination
• 1st floor will house offices dedicated to providing reentry services to incarcerated people, access to housing, job placement, etc.
• 2nd floor will house a teaching café where people can learn to use food as a community builder, two rooms to house people who are transitioning back into society after being incarcerated, and a community space for people to eat and live together
• 3rd floor will house a lounge area for youth and a strategic focus group area for gatherings targeting specific areas of struggle for people trying to reenter society
• Programming and development area for learning and growing, recreational space

Mid City Neighborhood Organization: MCNO
(Association dedicated to improving the quality of life of all midcitizens)
• Open to new ideas for what can go in the space
• Support the idea of workshops, government offices, etc that could service the newly revitalized Tulane Corridor
• MCNO will remain a committed partner in opposing the expansion of OPP

Santos Alvarado from The Congress of Day Laborers
(Organization of day laborers building a power base for workers rights)
• The Congreso has been involved in opposing the expansion of the jail because if it is expanded the sheriff will implement policies to fill it up
• The Spanish speaking community is particularly concerned because of struggles they have had with Gusman violating civil rights and holding people for extended unconstitutional periods for ICE (immigration) reasons
• Congreso supports the idea of building a school, hospital or recreational space that will benefit the community and is committed to opposing the expansion

John Burkhart from the Louisiana Campaign for Equal Justice
(An organization dedicated to ensuring the fair funding of Orleans Public Defenders)
• OPD is drastically underfunded and rent is a substantial expense for them
• OPD would be a good fit because they need to be close to the inmates, the courts and the sheriff to hold them accountable
• The space should house a group that is ready to defend Louisiana’s most vulnerable populations who are entitled to representation

Women With A Vision –Desiree Evans
(Organization serving marginalized women and their families)
• Louisiana’s incarceration rate is the worst in the country, but women are often ignored although we are the 3rd largest incarcerator of women
• Envision shelter, place for social services, addressing issues like child-care, and adequate housing, education and living wage employment
• Substance abuse counseling, mental health and reentry programs for women who are exiting the jail with no services directed at them
• There should be a place where women can come to have these issues addressed. A one-stop-shop

Community Education Project of New Orleans- Ashana Bigard and Ruth Idakula
(A group doing education justice work with new teachers, students and parents)
• Children as young as 8 years old are being arrested regularly for youth behavior and status offenses which are probation violations and being sent to jail
• The criminalization of youth behavior and poverty (i.e.- uniform infractions) is creating a school to prison pipeline where children are sent to juvenile court and jail
• These are our children going to this jail.
• We oppose the expansion of a third facility

Derek Rankins from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
(Group dedicated to identifying the causes of and undoing racism in our society)
• A community space led by formerly incarcerated people would be revolutionary
• If it’s led by people who have never been imprisoned it’s likely that they’ll burn out
• Formerly incarcerated leadership is important for accountable gatekeeping in the process to regain our humanity

Lila Arnaud
• Economic development is key. The space should be self-sustaining and profitable to the community by selling services or products
• Led by an advisory board of formerly incarcerated people that decides how the space functions
• Workshops, skillshares and community forums held in the space
• Space will house community businesses that earn revenue to be reinvested as seed money for community ventures
• Democratic profitable community owned space aimed at “teaching people how to fish”

Books to Prisoners: Steve Merlan
(Organization founded in 2003 that sends books to prisons in the Southeast)
• Have worked with OPP to try to send books, but the inmates say the have nothing to read. The prison is withholding the books we give them
• We would like to see a usable library in the space

Safe Streets, Strong Communities: Larry Green
(Organization dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system to create safer communities)
• Space should house advocacy services for people coming out of OPP
• Counseling on alcohol and drug abuse and anger management
• Assistance in navigating the court system to avoid fees and violations upon reentry

Janet Hayes
• Moving people with mental health needs into Charity Hospital facility would eliminate the sheriff’s need to build Phase III to house people with mental illness
• The space could house a workers cooperative so inmates or ex-offenders can make real money to help ease the financial transition back into society
• Examples of this from prisons around the world… prison coop brewery in Italy

Bruce Walzer
• We shouldn’t give the sheriff the opportunity to take over that space and spend more of our tax dollars.
• VERA or OPD would do well in that space

VOTE: Norris Henderson
(An organization aimed at ending the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people)
• Those with direct access could be on the 1st floor (VERA and OPD)
• Those doing community service on the 2nd floor, advocacy work on the 3rd
• A law library so people can understand the nature of what they’ve been charged with

Hope House: Brother Don Everard
(An organization dedicated to living and working with the poor and working for justice and dignity)
• Should be a space of healing… an antidote to the misery that exists in the prison
• Intentional community of people (maybe mix of formerly incarcerated and others)
• Trees and gardens, playground, chapel and playroom, place to rest, eat and drink

Feedback from folks with ideas they didn’t get a chance to share on the mic

• Campaign: Turn the Bridge to Nowhere into a Bridge to Freedom – “If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s where you’ll end up.” (Lila Arnaud)
• I’m interested in having a youth organizing space where Rethink could operate. I don’t work for them but believe their work is crucial to the future of this city.
• Garden for food – fresh food & flower market. Gardens help with trauma and PTSD. Can be a coop and a skill they take out into the world.
• Check out Decarcerate PA’s “Instead of Prisons” campaign!
• OPPRC should support an open process in which former inmates and the surrounding community have a say in how that space will be used

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Take Back the Land: A Call To Action Community Forum July 7, 2014

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) will hold a community forum on Tuesday July 8 at 6:30 pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at 2903 Jefferson (@ Claiborne). The forum will focus on discussion of the best use for a lot of land at 2900 Perdido. The land is owned by the city, and located between the kitchen and the new 1438-bed jail facility being built by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

 

After a brief presentation about the lot, OPPRC has invited over a dozen community groups to share their dreams and visions of how the site could be used in a way that would help make New Orleans a safer, healthier, and more just community. Open mic time will also be included for attendees at the forum to share their own ideas or comment on what has been shared by others.

Take Back The Land OPPRC July 2014

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has long held plans to build a so-called Phase III building on the 2900 Perdido site; these plans for additional inmate beds were documented in recent court filings. This is despite a 2011 City Ordinance advocated for by OPPRC and other community groups that limited the size of the new jail being constructed to 1438 beds and required that the new facility be built to accommodate the needs of all inmates. The Ordinance was passed unanimously by City Council. All City Councilpersons have been invited to attend Tuesday’s forum and some have already confirmed their participation.

 

OPPRC has argued for a cap on prison beds because prisons do not make a community safe but are instead themselves criminogenic, causally linked to violence and crime on New Orleans streets. If there are more beds to fill, the police and Sheriff will fill them and continue the trend of incarcerating and imprisoning mass amounts of people, perpetuating a country-wide epidemic, of which New Orleans is the epicenter. OPPRC argues that instead of building more beds, money that the city saves through reducing the size of the jail should be used for funding employment creation and job training programs, libraries, community centers, mental health and substance abuse services, after school programs, youth and recreation programs, cultural activities and economic development opportunities, etc. all things proven to be more effective in creating safer communities and families. Tuesday’s forum will provide an opportunity for the community to dream about these alternatives to more prison beds.

 

Transportation and childcare will be available for attendees of Tuesday night’s forum. For more information, contact oppreform@gmail.com or call 504-264-2189.

You can RSVP via facebook here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/592985364149635/

 

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OPPRC Calls For Urgent Action in Response to Jail Conditions

OPPRC members and supporters gathered today at Tulane & Broad, then walked several blocks to the OPP Intake & Processing Center.  We called for a moratorium on admissions to a facility where conditions continue to be inhumane, unconstitutional and life-threatening, and we renewed our call for Mayor Landrieu to declare the jail in a state of emergency, thus triggering the release of persons held for minor, non-violent crimes.

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We were joined by the family of Willie Lee, the most recent person to die while under custody of OPP. Lee’s mother, Margie Lee Hulitt spoke at the protest about the death of her son, including how she was not notified of his death until Sunday evening (close to a day after he died) and still has not been allowed to see his body.  See video here.

The City needs to find other alternatives rather than continuing to house people in an unsafe and violent jail.  We urged Susan Guidry and other members of the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee to take urgent action in an open letter that we released on March 13, 2014. Within ten days of the letter’s release another individual died in custody following a fight between prisoners in the jail’s temporary housing unit known as “the tents.”

The consent decree has not resulted in significant improvement in the conditions in the jail, and the first report of the federal monitoring team found that inmates in OPP “continue to experience severe problems with shoddy medical care, violence and a general attitude of apathy toward their grievances.”

There have been 25 in-custody deaths in OPP since 2009, and up to 73 inmates a month are sent to the emergency room.

Many of the people currently in OPP pose zero risk to public safety- as evidenced by the fact that they would simply be released under hurricane evacuation conditions. Instead, they are held in OPP, on taxpayer’s money, where they are in danger of being beaten, raped, stabbed, or possibly even killed in the jail.  We cannot in good conscience hold people subject to this dehumanizing violence. The City is responsible for their safety. The Mayor has the responsibility to stop this bloodshed.

Posted in Evacuate OPP Now, Events, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans City Council, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Violence in OPP | Leave a comment

Call for Urgent Action in response to Dangerous Conditions at OPP

ACTION ALERT ** ACTION ALERT ** ACTION ALERT **

We invite all those troubled by the horribly dangerous conditions at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) to join with OPPRC this Wednesday March 26 at 10 am at the intersection of Tulane & Broad.

When? Wednesday March 26 at 10 am

Where? Tulane & Broad

Why?

  • Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) continues to be an inhumane, unconstitutional and life threatening environment for people who find themselves housed there, as well as for those who work there. The first report of the federal monitoring team found that inmates in OPP “continue to experience severe problems with shoddy medical care, violence and a general attitude of apathy toward their grievances.” There have been 25 in-custody deaths in OPP since 2009. Up to 73 inmates a month are sent to the emergency room due to conditions at the jail, including for lacerations/punctures, fractures/dislocations, trauma, mental health crises, broken bones and sexual assault.
  • OPPRC released an open letter to the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee over a week ago calling for the Committee to hold a hearing to determine steps which the city can take to immediately address the current crisis in OPP. We have yet to receive any response to our letter. You can see the full open letter here.
  • Yet another individual has died in custody since the release of OPPRC’s open letter, highlighting that an urgent response is a life and death matter! The death occurred following a fight between prisoners in the jail’s temporary housing unit known as “the tents,” and it has yet to be revealed whether there were any deputies in the tent at the time of the fight.

What? Join with OPPRC and others in New Orleans to demand urgent action to address the human rights crisis at OPP. Wear red or black if you are able

For more information, contact: Norris Henderson @ 504.453.4819.

Posted in 1438 cap, Action Alerts, Evacuate OPP Now, Events, New Orleans City Council, Violence in OPP | 1 Comment

Open Letter to Criminal Justice Chair Guidry re: Violence in OPP

Dear Councilmember Guidry,

This past Friday, March 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the plaintiffs in Jones, et al. v. Gusman, et al. (i.e., the Orleans Parish Prison Consent Decree lawsuit) filed proposed findings of fact and a number of exhibits with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in preparation for an upcoming court hearing regarding funding of OPP. The documents, among other things, demonstrate that violence at OPP has remained at an unacceptably high level since the lawsuit was initially filed two years ago, and even since the court intervened with its Consent Judgment. Thus, despite apparent attempts to ebb the level of violence at OPP, the violence has continued, and even increased, to the detriment of the individuals being housed in OPP facilities and danger to those who work at the jail.

Reports from January-October 2013 reveal up to 73 inmates a month were routed to the emergency room due to conditions at the jail, including for lacerations/punctures, fractures/dislocations, trauma, mental health crises, broken bones and sexual assault.. Approximately 66 of those are for trauma related injuries. These numbers are in stark contrast to the findings of Judge Africk regarding the Shelby County Jail in Memphis, TN, which has a similar jail population. That facility had just seven emergency routes to hospital emergency rooms for trauma related incidents in a year, meanwhile OPP had hundreds in the same time frame.

The documents filed indicate that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office continues to lack an appropriate classification system, with the effect of mixing persons charged with violent crimes with individuals at risk. Apparently there are still entire tiers at the jail where individuals are being housed which have no guards at all for significant periods of time. In addition, there are inadequate activities and services for inmates, all of which contributes to violence at the jail. Evidently, the widespread availability of weapons and drugs has also contributed to the persistence of violent conditions.

These types of findings are unacceptable months after a federal consent decree and after more than two years of litigation. Though there are some issues that must go before the court before they can be sufficiently addressed, there are steps that can and should be taken immediately to curb levels of violence at the jail. One straightforward and immediate action would be to shut down non-essential operations and re-assign personnel to the jail so that no single tier is left unguarded at any time.

It is also crucial to determine how many inmates can be safely, securely, humanely and constitutionally held right now given the amount and availability of personnel. The jail population should be capped to reflect the safest ratio of staffers to inmates possible. Such a move is not unprecedented, as Jefferson Parish has had a cap on their jail population for years based on space and staffing, and their jail has nowhere near the amount of violence as OPP. There are numerous other options for classifying and housing inmates, such as contracting with other facilities and releasing those who do not pose a threat, to deal with overflow, rather than continue to hold people in a facility that is so obviously unsafe and dangerous.

Councilmember Guidry, the current conditions at OPP are horrendous. Reasonable measures can and should be taken immediately to reduce the level of violence. We are asking that you, in your capacity as chair of the Criminal Justice Sub-Committee of the City Council, call a hearing before your committee, as soon as possible, regarding violence at the jail and to determine steps which the city can take to immediately address the current crisis in OPP. If the jail cannot currently provide adequate staff to prevent the violence, then the City needs to find other alternatives rather than continuing to house people in this unsafe and violent jail. We cannot simply continue to expose individuals who are in custody or individuals who work at the jail to these extremely dangerous conditions. Under current conditions, the jail remains an inhumane, unconstitutional and life threatening environment for citizens of the City of New Orleans who find themselves housed there and for those who work there.

We hope to hear your decision regarding this matter. Please contact us at oppreform@gmail.com or at 504.264.2189. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)

Posted in Evacuate OPP Now, New Orleans City Council, OPP Consent Decree, Violence in OPP | 2 Comments

Let’s Talk About TERM LIMITS

As we head into runoff elections for the offices of Sheriff and Coroner, and face demoralizing choices like whether to re-elect either Charles Foti or Marlin Gusman, it is crucial that we do more than simply vote for the false choices offered us. It’s time to ask what needs to change!

On October 11, 1971, the Ludington Daily News ran an article titled, “Orleans Parish Jail – Hell Hole of U.S.” In the forty years since, New Orleans has elected a new Sheriff exactly twice (Foti in 1974 and Gusman in 2004), and OPP is still a hell hole. Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is currently under a consent decree following a lawsuit over conditions in the jail, and has been under various consent decrees since the 1960’s. Under both Foti’s thirty year tenure and Gusman’s ten year tenure as sheriff, lawsuits over medical and mental health care of prisoners, treatment of female prisoners, and treatment and housing of juvenile prisoners resulted in numerous consent decrees. The choice now between Charles Foti and Marlin Gusman is a false one between two men who, together, are responsible for 40 years of violence, incompetence and failure in the jail.

One of the forces that perpetuate corruption in the New Orleans political landscape is the lack of turnover in powerful offices like the Sheriff. The lack of term limits and limits on cross-governmental candidacy encourages elected officials to focus on maintaining their power, influence and bottom line while cutting the average workers and citizens who populate this city out of decision making and resource allocation. The Mayor and City Council are subject to term limits, however the Sheriff’s office has no term limits, and no accountability.

The Sheriff’s office is not the only public office in need of term limits or other electoral reform. Frank Minyard, the outgoing coroner, was first elected in 1974 (the same year as Foti), and has held the office for ten consecutive terms. During his tenure, the coroner’s office has been accused on numerous occasions of failing to classify as homicides the deaths of individuals beaten or shot by the police. In 1990 the death of Adolph Archie, beaten to death after fatally shooting a police officer, was originally classified by the coroner as an accident. Henry Glover, shot by a police officer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and then set on fire was originally ruled by the coroner as undetermined and was only reopened after enormous pressure from family and community. Cayne Miceli, whose death was originally ruled “drug-related” by the New Orleans coroner, died after being held in five-point restraints during an asthma attack; and the list goes on. A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences recommends phasing out the office of the coroner entirely and replacing that elected position with an appointed medical examiner. However in New Orleans not only is the coroner elected, there is no limit on how many terms a coroner may serve.

We the people who bear the brunt of the impact from callous policies, have to take charge to transform what we have into what we deserve. In Orleans Parish we can change our City Charter by having 10,000 registered voters petition a change and then vote on it. We have been battered by exclusionary political elitism for too long, it is time to reclaim our power and remind them who they work for.

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Sheriff Candidates Forum Video Footage

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