Statement at Urban Congress to End Criminalization of our Communities Now! 6/8/12

I am Donald Chopin representative of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition. We are a coalition of dozens of community organizations and many more concerned individuals who have been campaigning since 2004 to make OPP a smaller, safer more humane jail.

OPPRC has reached out to the Mayor, we have submitted petitions, we have attended Criminal Justice Working Group meetings, our response from the Mayor has demonstrated a disappointing lack of concern and leadership.

12 have died in OPP since the Department of Justice released their report on conditions in the jail, 9 of them since Mayor Landrieu’s election. The conditions have continued to deteriorate and the Mayor has done nothing to intervene. These are human beings, many of them still awaiting trial and presumed to be innocent. The city is also paying to detain people convicted for petty crimes. Meanwhile, they are under the constant threat of violence, both from other inmates as well as the staff of OPP. We all have blood on our hands, and we must take these people out of harm’s way.

We are holding this press conference today to address the Mayor directly in the media, before all the people of New Orleans whom he represents to urge him to take a stand and end the horrible violence in OPP

We demand the release of all municipal non-violent offenders, people, for example, who are held pre-trial or convicted for the following charges: Vagrancy, panhandling, traffic violations, public urination, public drunkenness, marijuana first offense etc.

These people are in imminent danger of being beaten, raped, stabbed, or possibly killed while in Orleans Parish Prison.  We cannot in good conscious hold people for minor crimes who might be subject to this dehumanizing violence. The City is responsible for their safety. If they are hurt, the city has blood on its hands. The Mayor has the responsibility to stop this bloodshed.

In the event that a category 3 hurricane comes into the Gulf, the Mayor is obligated to release all those being held on municipal charges. We are clear that the current conditions in OPP are a threat to the lives and safety of these individuals now. The Mayor must take similar action to remove them from harm’s way.

We demand that you provide us with a public response, on camera, within the next 72 hours.

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