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Important City Council meeting June 17

Date: Thu, Jun. 17, 2010

The New Orleans City Council is scheduled to meet at 10am this morning, Thursday, June 17.  After 11am, the Council will consider Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s land use application for a new, expanded Orleans Parish Prison complex. Sheriff Gusman has applied to the City Planning Commission for approval to build a jail complex with a capacity of 5,800 beds; the City Planning Commission has approved his application. The land use issue coming before the City Council is the last procedural hurdle for the new jail project.

The proposed jail has a capacity that is 300% higher than the national average. The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is funded in direct proportion to how many people it imprisons, for how long: a dangerous conflict of interest between the fundamental principles of justice and the livelihoods of its practitioners. A larger jail complex would only expand upon this damaging and socially untenable conflict of interest.

It is important that the community attend today’s meeting and let the City Council know that we want true, sustainable public safety. Simply building a larger prison is fundamentally reactionary and, in our view, counter-productive to our safety in the long term. Locking up greater numbers of people for greater numbers of offenses is the wrong direction! Before accepting such a drastic move, we ask that the City Council convene an expert panel to present findings on size and how the jail is funded.  This expertise is available through criminal justice research and advocacy groups such as the Vera Institute, currently hard at work studying criminal justice practices in New Orleans and around the United States.

Also: A reminder that NOPD COMSTAT meetings are now open to the public. These weekly meetings include detailed presentations by each district commander on criminal incidents, trends, and district strategies for addressing them. The district-wide meetings take place each Friday morning beginning at 8:30am at 401 City Park Avenue. For district-specific meetings, during which the public also has an opportunity to ask questions and offer comments, see the department’s website. As a whole, the COMSTAT meetings are an excellent chance to hear how crime is being perceived by the police, and how it is being addressed in your neighborhood.