Major ad causes minor ripple

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A full-page ad in today’s Times-Picayune urging the public to call elected city officials to protest jail-expansion plans had generated just 33 calls by 3 p.m.

The ad, which cost $12,000, was paid for by a group of like-minded criminal justice reform advocates unhappy about a plan by Sheriff Marlin Gusman to expand the Orleans Parish Prison.

Gusman says he is proposing a jail complex with about 4,200 beds, up from the current 3,552 beds. His opponents, meanwhile, say in the ad that Gusman “wants to build a 5,800-bed jail to replace the present 3,500-bed jail.

“Other cities have built smaller jails while reducing violent crime,” reads the ad. “Why can’t we?”

The ad urges the public to call Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the seven City Council members, listing all of their numbers.

Representatives from those offices each said they had a handful of calls on the issue, totaling 33.

“We’ve gotten two calls, one for it, one against,” said the person answering the phone for council member Stacy Head.  Meanwhile, the receptionist for council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer said her office had received 15 calls, all in support of the ad — the most of any council member.

The Lens called the coalition to find out whether $363 per phone call to the city represents a success.

“I can’t speak to the specific numbers,” said Dana Kaplan, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which led the effort. “I think the hope of many of the people who signed their name is to begin a public dialog on the issue. It is, in many ways, just one attempt to start a discussion with City Council and the public.”

“Every single person I’ve talked to has given positive responses,” Kaplan said. “Obviously it’s a huge demonstration of support for a different kind of jail.”

Landrieu’s administration has sought advice from community members with an interest in the jail, trying to develop a consensus recommendation to the City Council. The council still must approve a zoning ordinance before Gusman can proceed with his full plan.

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