From: James Rucker, ColorOfChange.org <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 11:29 PM
Subject: Thank you for taking a stand. Please spread the word.
Orleans Parish Prison is in terrible condition, and a new jail is badly needed. But will the new facility reflect the sheriff's narrow priorities -- or the people's? Your voice can help decide.
New Orleans Sheriff Marlin Gusman wants to build a huge new jail that would cost much more to operate without making the public any safer. Instead, it would create a perverse incentive to fill the jail with low-level offenders while eating up resources that would be better spent fighting violent crime.
Building a 5800-bed jail to replace the present 3500-bed jail is a bad deal for New Orleans. But with enough public outcry, new Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans City Council will reject the huge prison and call for a smaller facility that reflects the city's real priorities. That's why I've joined my friends at ColorOfChange.org in calling on them to build a smaller parish prison. Will you join me? It takes just a moment:
Conditions at OPP have been so bad that the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into widespread and systemic civil rights abuses at the facility.1 There's no question that a new prison is needed, and thankfully FEMA will foot the bill for constructing the prison. But a larger prison will be more expensive to run, and the operating expenses will fall overwhelmingly on New Orleans' citizens.2
And a larger prison would mean that New Orleanians will pay more money for less actual public safety. Because OPP is funded according to the number of prisoners it holds each day (called a per diem system), there is a powerful financial incentive to keep the jail as full as possible. As criminal justice policy expert Michael Jacobson put it, "The only incentive a per diem system provides is to have more people in jail. Because the more inmates you have, the more money you have."3 And to keep the prison full, New Orleans police officers won't try to haul in more violent offenders who endanger public safety -- they'll instead arrest people for minor offenses that would only merit a ticket in the overwhelming majority of American cities.4
Just look at the numbers from last year: only 13% of NOPD's 60,000 arrests were for felonies, while 42% -- more than 25,000 -- were thrown in jail for traffic violations and breaking minor city laws.5 Statistics like this point to one reason why a full 1% of New Orleans' population sits in prison today. A larger prison will only boost the incentive to arrest more people and mismanage public safety resources.
What's more, a huge prison budget means less money left for the city to spend on real priorities -- education, recreation programs, good healthcare, and better roads and other critical infrastructure. Moreover, New Orleans should instead invest in cheaper, more effective alternatives to incarceration. These are the things that will bring New Orleans back -- not a huge new prison.
Please join me and my friends at ColorOfChange.org, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, and hundreds of New Orleans' residents in telling Mayor Landrieu that New Orleans' future lies in investing in its communities, and not in incarcerating more of its residents. And when you do, please ask your friends and neighbors to do the same.
1. The Trumpet, 9-1-2010
2. "Bigger Jails Don't Mean Safer Cities," Unity of Greater New Orleans, 9-21-2010
3. "Sheriff headed to court without budget increase," ProjectNOLA.com, 9-30-2010