Hundreds of Community Members and Members and OPPRC Demand Federal Judges Consider Jail Retrofit Option in Midst of “Phase III” Jail Expansion Proposal

“We must reinvest those funds in our city’s non-carceral infrastructure, and allocate proper funding to support education, housing, and community wellness.”

New Orleans, LA, August 10, 2020—On Monday, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) delivered hundreds of community letters to Judge Lance M. Africk and Magistrate Michael B. North urging the federal judges to stop progress on an additional jail building that is meant to accommodate those with serious mental illness (a so-called “Phase III”) and instead support an alternative jail retrofit option endorsed by advocates from across the city.

OPPRC also sent an official organization letter on behalf of the group’s members, in addition to letters from numerous advocacy organizations—including the Promise of Justice Initiative and the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana. The letter drop-off followed city officials recent decision to align with OPPRC’s yearslong fight against jail expansion by seeking an alternative to an expensive, additional jail building that is meant to accommodate those with serious mental illness. The letter drop-off took place ahead of the federal judges’ upcoming ruling based on the city’s recent submission of a plan not to build the proposed new Phase III jail facility.

The retrofit plan permits the City to re-purpose remaining FEMA funds to build a community wellness center to care for people with serious mental illness outside of the carceral system,” OPPRC’s letter reads. “We must reinvest those funds in our city’s non-carceral infrastructure, and allocate proper funding to support education, housing, and community wellness.”

OPPRC’s letter also highlights how the latest federally appointed jail monitor report shows that medical and mental health care within OPP has “made meaningful and noteworthy improvement.

“As the numerous letters submitted to Judge Africk and Magistrate North highlight, New Orleans residents don’t support or see the need for the construction of an additional Phase III jail facility,” said OPPRC Executive Director Sade Dumas. “There is no need to construct a new carceral facility to provide the care that Tulane School of Medicine and Wellpath are already working hard to deliver.”

The proposed retrofit of the existing jail building would save the city an estimated $184 million in construction, maintenance, and staffing costs over 35 years. The option offers a constitutional solution for people with mental illness on an even faster timeline than the original plan.

Included in OPPRC’s letter delivery to federal judges was a selection of letters from over 750 community members who submitted commentary opposing the Phase III facility while supporting the retrofit option.

“We have a solid retrofit alternative that will be much cheaper, allow for the provision of constitutional care, and won’t be as much of a strain on the already chronically-understaffed jail complex,” one community member letter reads. “The decision is clear: give in to the cheating Sheriff and siphon millions of tax dollars from residents to operate a systemically racist institution, or redirect funds to community-based care that will actually do something to address root issues?”

Select criminal justice systems actors are working directly against the best interests of the New Orleans community-at-large by supporting the proposal for an expensive additional facility, while the alternative jail retrofit option allows the City to:

  • Re-allocate an estimated $184 million in jail costs to community resources over the next 35 years

  • Provide a constitutional solution for those with mental illness within one year. This plan would also permit the City to use brick and mortar restricted FEMA funds to build a community wellness center to care for people with serious mental illness outside of the carceral system.

  • Halt jail expansion in New Orleans

“Those funds could be utilized for a myriad of more useful projects and programs,” another community letter addressed to Judge Africk and Magistrate North reads. “The construction cost alone could fund community aid for our poverty stricken city and give residents a chance to rise above the generational financial hardships that far too many New Orleanians face.”


About the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC)

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition is a diverse, grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations from across New Orleans who have come together to shrink the size of the jail and improve the conditions of confinement for those held in detention in Orleans Parish. Founded in 2004, OPPRC members include community activists, lawyers, service providers, organizers, formerly incarcerated people, and their family members.

Visit for more information.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *