Group: Donate the daily taxpayer cost of a city jail inmate for an ad, asking 'do we need a bigger jail?'

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[Post updated, 9/2/10]

A group of like-minded criminal justice reform advocates is soliciting donations to buy a full-page ad in the Times Picayune next week to protest Sheriff Marlin Gusman's plan to expand the Orleans Parish jail.

Gusman is proposing a new jail that ultimately will housing about 5,800 people, says the group — up from its existing 3,552 beds. The advocates hope to start a citywide conversation about the proposal by soliciting donations of $22.39 — the daily cost the city pays the sheriff for each inmate. The group also is asking donors to consider what else the city could spend the $22.39 on.
"We're hearing everything from mental health programs, after school programs, to better street lights and fixing the potholes in the French Quarter," says Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which is headquartering the effort. "I think it really highlights the fiscal tradeoff the city is making when [it decides] to focus on expanding the jail instead of other services."
The ad will cost $12,000 and is expected to run next week, Kaplan says.

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"In just a few days we have had about 250 contributions, and we've raised over $5,000 in grass-roots donations," she says. "I think what we're seeing is definitely a groundswell of support for reform of Orleans Parish Prison. This is just through email solicitation and word of mouth.
"The donations are coming from all kinds of likely and unlikely allies. We're seeing contributions from former judges, former city council members, local musicians, average citizens."

Some private donors have agreed to match the funds raised by the effort. You can make a donate online through  Paypal until the end of today. There's an anonymous donation button, if you don't want your name to appear in the ad.
"A jail comfortable for our community needs to be no more than 857 beds," says Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice of The Ex-Offender (VOTE), which supports the effort. "We've been locking people up for convenience."
According to the group: Currently 3,500 inmates are in the Orleans Parish Prison, 2,700 of whom are "city prisoners." That represents the highest rate of detention of any urban jail in the country and is three times the national average. There have also been a series of documented civil rights issues with conditions at the jail.
If you are interested in more details, Karen Gadbois at The Lens has been chronicling the city's efforts to convene a private advisory committee around the jail expansion process.

Sheriff Gusman responded with an emailed statement through his public relations firm, the  Ehrhardt Group. He questioned the statistics cited by  the group, saying "all of the projections

from the Juvenile Justice Project and percentages relative to our population are wrong."

The sheriff wants a smaller, more efficient jail complex, he wrote, pointing out that the pre-Katrina jail complex housed over 7,500 inmates. Although 4,200 beds is still more than the current 3,552 beds.

The statement also focused on the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, writing: "This special interest group’s willingness to allow the current inmate housing situation to continue, while pursuing its own agenda, is short-sighted and a threat to public safety."

"Demanding an artificially small facility just to satisfy a quest for national comparisons, in other words to wish New Orleans to be safer, is unrealistic and it puts the public’s safety at risk," Gusman continued.

The full text of the planned ad is pasted, after the jump, along with the text of Gusman's statement.

IS THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS BUILDING AN EVEN BIGGER PUBLIC SAFETY FAILURE?

Marlin Gusman, the Orleans Parish Sheriff, wants to build a 5,800-bed jail to replace the present 3,500-bed jail. More than three quarters of the people in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) are being held for minor, non-violent offenses; jailing more people for minor, non-violent offenses does not protect the public or make our city safe.
We consistently have one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder in the nation, despite incarcerating more people per capita than any other city in the U.S. Other cities have built smaller jails while reducing violent crime. Why can’t we?
THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS NEEDS TO INVEST IN PUBLIC SAFETY, NOT JAILING MORE PEOPLE
FAR TOO BIG
If our jail were consistent with the national average, we would have 850 prisoners, not 5,800 prisoners. Jefferson Parish has 443,000 people; its jail has 902 people. Orleans Parish has 331,000 people; Orleans Parish Prison has 3,500 people. If our neighbors can spend their money more effectively, why can’t we?
WE NEED A SMALLER JAIL
FAR TOO EXPENSIVE
We spend $22.39 each day to incarcerate a person in the Orleans parish jail; we spend an additional $6 million each year on medical care and staffing costs.
The Department of Justice has determined that conditions in the jail violate federally protected civil rights; the city will have to spend even more money to comply with minimal standards.
Cheaper alternatives exist, such as diversion and treatment programs that are proven more effective and cost less than half the price of a day in jail.
We cannot afford to spend even more of our scarce tax dollars on incarcerating people for minor, nonviolent offenses.
HOW DO YOU WANT THE CITY TO SPEND YOUR MONEY?
Every dollar that it takes to operate the jail comes from taxpayers.
The city spends at least $20 million a year operating the current facility.
There have been 7 deaths in the jail this year alone. The failure to provide adequate care and safety for prisoners frequently results in lawsuits, financial hardships and emotional loss for the families of those who have died and additional costs to taxpayers; the bigger the jail, the bigger the liability.
WE WANT THE CITY TO SPEND OUR MONEY ON THESE OTHER THINGS …
That’s why each of us has contributed $22.39—one day’s price of incarceration in the City of New Orleans —to the cost of this ad telling the Mayor and City Council not to build a massive new jail but to build a smaller, safer, right-sized jail.
To make your voice heard, please sign up and call Mayor Landrieu and your City Councilmembers:
Mitchell J. Landrieu, Mayor: 504-658-4900

Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, At-Large: 658-1070

Arnie Fielkow, At-Large: 658-1060

Susan G. Guidry, A: 658-1010

Stacy Head, B: 658-1020

Kristin Gisleson Palmer, C: 658-1030

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, D: 658-1040

Jon D. Johnson, E: 658-1050

Gusman's statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Marc Ehrhardt, 504.558.1845, marc@theehrhardtgroup.com

Sheriff Marlin Gusman Asserts the Need for a

Smaller, Safer Jail Complex

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana wants to convince New Orleans that it needs a jail with 2,500 fewer inmates than were in custody last night.

NEW ORLEANS – Sept. 2, 2010 – Following is a statement from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman regarding the size and design of the new Orleans Parish

Correctional Complex:

“Last night, more than 3,291 inmates were housed in Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office facilities, spread out over 5+ city blocks in temporary tents or rehabbed buildings. In 2009, the Sheriff’s Office processed more than 63,000 individuals who were arrested by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana wants to fool the people of New Orleans into believing that our city needs a jail that can house 2,500 fewer inmates than were in jail last night.

The new jail complex is not being increased in size, it is being decreased. The proposal is for half of the pre-Katrina capacity -- more than 3,000 less beds than existed before Katrina under a prior administration. Therefore, all of the projections from the Juvenile Justice Project and percentages relative to our population are wrong.

This special interest group’s willingness to allow the current inmate housing situation to continue, while pursuing its own agenda, is short-sighted and a threat to public safety.

Our new jail facilities will mean that New Orleans is a safer city. It will be cost efficient, be built on a smaller footprint than the current facilities encompass, and will feature the technology needed to create a secure jail complex.

However, demanding an artificially small facility just to satisfy a quest for national comparisons, in other words to wish New Orleans to be safer, is unrealistic and it puts the public’s safety at risk.

Furthermore, our records do track and account for the various charges lodged against inmates but it is the New Orleans Police Department and not the Sheriff’s Office who selects persons for arrest and incarceration. We simply exercise care, custody and control.

There are specific reasons for designing the jail complex in the fashion we presented, and all of them are justified to improve public safety.

Our new facilities meet the standards for public safety set by the American Correctional Association. They were designed by national experts in the field, who considered every aspect of preferred jail design relative to safety of the community, inmates, visitors and deputies. These advancements include best practice jail design for cell sizes, medical facilities and a single, secure access for the processing of arrested individuals that directs traffic away from the surrounding residences.

The City of New Orleans is contributing no funding for these improvements. They are all part of FEMA reimbursements from Hurricane Katrina, along with funding from the Law Enforcement District.

Even before and since Katrina’s floods, the current facilities are spread out over too wide an area. By any community’s standards, they are inadequate and strain our human and capital resources. The Sheriff’s Office has eight facilities, including temporary tents. We have to deploy our deputies in less than desirable situations because of the size, number and condition of the facilities.”

CHART OUTLINING OPSO BED SPACE

Number of Beds

Facility Pre-Katrina Current New Jail Complex

Orleans Parish Prison 831 831 831

Conchetta 408 408 Converted to work release facility

House of Detention 841 841 0 – Closed or demolished

Community Correctional Center 1,280 0 0 – Closed or demolished

South White Street 288 288 0 – Demolished

Temporary Detention Facility (TNT) 0 704 0 – Closed

Templeman I 898 0 – Demolished 0

Templeman II 936 0 – Demolished 0

Templeman III 1,204 0 – Demolished 0

Templeman IV 234 0 – Demolished 0

Templeman V 316 316 Converted to psychiatric treatment facility

Broad St. Work Release 164 164 164

School 164 0 0

Kitchen/Warehouse 0 0 0

Housing Tower 1 with new Intake 0 0 1,438

Housing Tower 2 0 0 1,834

TOTAL BEDS 7,564 3,552 4,267

Note – The OPSO will construct 400 temporary inmate beds for use during the construction period. These beds will be removed following the completion of construction and are not included in the new jail complex bed totals. The Conchetta facility currently used to house 408 inmates will be converted into a work release facility following construction of the new jail complex. In addition, plans call for Templeman V to be converted to a psychiatric treatment facility. Prisoners housed in Templeman V will shift to the new housing towers in the jail complex, once construction is complete.

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