ACLU Calls On City To Halt Sheriff's Plan To Expand Largest Per Capita Jail In America

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
June 14, 2010 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Louisiana
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NEW ORLEANS, LA – The ACLU of Louisiana calls on the New Orleans City Council to reject Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plan to expand Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) to 5,832 beds, large enough for 1 bed for every 60 residents. OPP, currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, is already the largest per capita jail in the nation1 and the City’s own Planning Commission has recommended a smaller sized jail. The Sheriff’s request is scheduled to be heard by the Council this week.

The request comes on the heels of reports that the Sheriff misled the Mid-City Neighborhood Association (MCNO) during a recent meeting on the size of the proposed jail. In response to questions from Mid-City residents, the Sheriff informed the group that the new jail will have 4,500 beds; however, his filings with the City Planning Commission indicate that he plans to have 5,832 beds. Additionally, the Sheriff has been unable or unwilling to reveal what types of crimes people in his jail are charged with. 2 “The scary thing is that he can’t even tell us who he is housing in the jail. Public drunkenness? Marijuana possession? He simply won’t tell us or doesn’t know,” said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director for the ACLU of Louisiana.

What is known is that from January 2007 until June 2009, on average just 2.24% arrests in New Orleans were for violent felonies.3 86% of arrests were for misdemeanors, municipal, traffic violations, and other arrests.4 At the same time, roughly a third of the prisoners held at OPP are federal and state prisoners who have already been sentenced and should be held at state or federal facilities.5

The size of the new jail would dwarf, per capita, the size of the largest jails in America.

“The Sheriff’s effort to increase the size of the jail is a classic power grab by a ‘good ole’ Louisiana politician.” says Marjorie Esman, Executive Director at the ACLU of Louisiana. “Having the largest jail in America has not made the city safer. Instead of helping the Sheriff build something that belongs in a totalitarian state, we hope the City will focus on violent crime and continue to create a pretrial detention policy that releases people who are not a threat to public safety.”

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1 Sheriff’s OPP Population Breakdown from a recent Public Records Act request by the ACLU of LA.
2 According to a May 2010 email sent to the ACLU of LA from the Sheriff’s attorney, the Sheriff “does not maintain a list of prisoners that includes charges and sentence information.”
3 Metropolitan Crime Commission, Orleans Parish Criminal Justice System Accountability Report, Fall 2009, available at: www.metropolitancrimecommission.org/documents/NOCJSAccountabilityReport-Fall2009.pdf
4 Id.
5 Sheriff’s OPP Population Breakdown from a recent Public Records Act request by the ACLU of LA.
6 Available at: quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html
7 Available at: bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2195

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