Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Call for “Care Not Cages” at Jazz Funeral in Opposition of Proposed Psychiatric Jail

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The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), and partners, second lined  to encourage the City Planning Commission to recommend against building the Phase III Psychiatric Jail.

New Orleans, LA, October 9, 2021—The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) and other criminal justice reform organizations hosted a Jazz funeral for the hopeful death of the Phase III psychiatric jail proposal. 75+ community members met in front of the jail, at 2800 Perdido St, to march down to the bridge to nowhere, the empty plot of land on Perdido Street where Sheriff Marlin Gusman is proposing to build a $51 million psychiatric jail, despite public disapproval from City Council, business leaders, and medical professionals.

The jazz funeral was hosted in advance of the City Planning Commission (CPC) meeting on October 12th, where the CPC will make a recommendation as to whether or not to move forward with building the Phase III psychiatric jail. OPPRC and the New Orleans Community has been fighting the Phase III psychiatric jail expansion for years, and has declared that Phase III is dead, but that decision now lies with the CPC. The CPC has the power to, figuratively, put the nail in Phase III’s coffin, and begin the process of adopting a retrofit option for which many groups — including OPPRC, the Orleans Public Defenders, Operation Restoration, Voice of the Experience, Justice and Accountability Center, and the Promise of Justice Initiative — advocate. These groups oppose any new construction that could lead to increased incarceration in New Orleans and believe the city should instead invest in research-backed approaches to mental health care outside of the carceral system. The jail’s population is at an all-time low, And experts have confirmed that there is more than enough space to renovate the facility to comply with consent decree measures of constitutional care. Expanding the jail now is costly, unnecessary, and a threat to some of New Orleans’ most vulnerable community members.

Phase III has been on the front of the mind of federal courts, politicians, and the public, and is a major campaign issue in New Orleans’ upcoming sheriff election, where all five candidates are running on “progressive” platforms. Of these five, only one candidate, Susan Hutson, has committed to preventing jail expansion. Hutson was present at Saturday’s festivities where she confirmed that commitment by saying “We will kill Phase III. We will not build this jail”.

City Council Woman Kristin Palmer of district C who is running for at-large division two, also came to today’s event and shared her thoughts on the proposed psychiatric jail expansion stating “The last thing New Orleans needs is to spend our limited dollars on building a jail expansion”. She elaborated by saying “The millions we would spend on the jail expansion should be spent  providing medical and mental health services within the existing jail to stabilize inmates and stop the revolving prison door”.

Saturday’s second line included live music from Twenty First Century Brass Band and testimony from New Orleans’ leaders who have been directly impacted by issues of mass incarceration and inadequate psychiatric care. Dolphinette Martin from Operation Restoration shared some of her experiences dealing with mental illness while being incarcerated. “Those of us with mental illness struggle to keep our minds still, but our minds will never be still” she said pointing at the jail.

Speakers elaborated on the dangers of jail expansion. Robert Jones from the Orleans Public Defenders shared his personal experiences in the Orleans Justice Center formerly known as Orleans Parish Prison—-“I spent 4 years in Orleans Parish Prison and know the horrible scenes, that the things that went on in that parish, for them to want to expand the horrible things I’ve seen is madness, it’s just madness!”- Robert Jones Orleans Public Defenders.

Advocates made clear that by preventing jail expansion they are not condoning the existence or conditions of the current jail,  but that by stopping the building of a psychiatric jail, we get one step closer to a decarcerated New Orleans, and make strides towards prison abolition.

New Orleanians have repeatedly voiced that no one should be caged for their mental health status. They’ve written hundreds of letters, conducted sleepouts, held rallies, and are ready to lay Phase III to rest.

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 to learn more.

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