Today the ACLU of Louisiana and fourteen other organizations and individuals urge the New Orleans City Council to engage experts in criminal justice to evaluate the needs of the city before approving the current proposal for a new prison facility. Set for a hearing before the City Council on July 1, the project advanced by Sheriff Marlin Gusman would create the largest per-capita jail in the country, with the potential to incarcerate as many as one in 60 residents of New Orleans.
Only about 2% of the arrests in New Orleans are for violent crimes, and more than 80% of arrests are for misdemeanors, traffic violations, municipal offenses, and other nonviolent crimes. While proposing the largest per-capita jail in the country, Sheriff Gusman maintains that he doesn't know who he's holding for what crimes. ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said: "A larger jail will not make New Orleans safer. We don't know who's in jail, but we know that we're locking up thousands of people on nonviolent charges. Before approving a project like this, the Sheriff should explain why he's asking for a jail of the size that he wants, and the City of New Orleans should evaluate the needs of our community so that we get it right."
The letter concludes with the following request:
At a time of massive budget shortfalls, New Orleans should not waste funds. The Sheriff's proposed jail will not make us any safer, as we will continue to lock up New Orleanians on traffic citations, rather than focusing on the violent crime that plagues our community. Please vote no to the expensive expansion of the jail and vote to form a group with expertise and staffing that will recommend a plan that saves money and fights violent crime.
Joining the ACLU in this letter are the following:
A copy of the letter may be read here.