The American Civil Liberties Union today submitted a request to Sheriff Marlin Gusman seeking public records concerning the resources allocated by FEMA for the proposed expansion of the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).
Despite his plans to dramatically expand the capacity of OPP to 5,800 prisoners, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has provided no documents showing the funding that he says is committed to the project. Although Sheriff Gusman asserts that the project will be underwritten by FEMA, he has never disclosed the extent of FEMA funds or the conditions imposed upon those funds.
"The public still has no idea where the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to expand the prison is coming from," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "We've asked FEMA for their records, but Sheriff Gusman must account to New Orleans residents so we will know what we will have to pay for his planned expansion. Without that information we can't know whether the money will be well spent."
Among other things, the ACLU asks for plans or proposals concerning the demolition, rebuilding, repair or expansion of OPP and documents related to funds FEMA has allocated or disbursed for such projects as well as how the use of those funds might be restricted.
The proposed new size of OPP would be large enough to incarcerate one out of every 60 residents of New Orleans. Yet outside experts have shown that the jail's size could easily be reduced if New Orleans were to adopt commonsense criminal justice policies like expanding pre-trial release options, providing community service sentencing, and setting more appropriate and cost-effective sanctions for minor municipal offenses.
New Orleans residents have expressed mounting concerns during the past year about whether this massive expansion of OPP is warranted. These concerns prompted the New Orleans City Council to postpone in July final approval of Gusman's expansion plans until a special working group convened by Mayor Mitch Landrieu determines the optimal size for OPP. The working group is expected to release its findings in late November.
"We continue to seek independent scrutiny of Sheriff Gusman's plans, as well as full disclosure of all of the information," Esman said. "The public simply doesn't know where the money will come from and whether there are strings attached to it. The people of New Orleans deserve to know how much this will cost. Now may be the final window of opportunity to access that information."
A copy of the ACLU's request is available online here.