Mayor Mitch Landrieu today announced the membership and goals of a new jail advisory group, which will deliver a recommendation to his office on the “optimal” size of a planned new jail complex.
The mayor signed an executive order convening the group yesterday, and charged it with giving him a written recommendation and report by Nov. 22.
The new group includes Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, judges from the city’s courts, and council members Jackie Clarkson, Susan Guidry, and Stacy Head. It also includes noted skeptics about a larger jail, including former Chief Judge of Criminal District Court Calvin Johnson. A full list of committee members is at the end of this article.
“I said in 2006 at a crime summit that we can’t arrest our way out of this,” Johnson said this afternoon. “And if you can’t arrest your way out of this, then you can’t jail your way out of it either.
“We have used building jails as an economic development tool in Louisiana over the last 30 years,” Johnson continued. “Local sheriffs have been pleased with this because they get paid by the Department of Corrections to keep inmates in their jails.”
Johnson hopes the group will deliver “a jail more in keeping with the reality of the population in New Orleans,” and that it will focus on alternatives to incarceration. He wants the group to challenge Sheriff Gusman, who is pushing to grow the jail from its current 3,500 beds to at least 4,200 beds under his latest plan.
Landrieu convened a stakeholders group around the issue in July, responding to concerns about Gusman’s proposals. But the meetings were closed to the public, his administration told The Lens.
Landrieu’s office changed its position on Sept. 13, and it told The Lens that it would now formalize the working group and open it up to the public.
“In Louisiana, the most powerful elected official in a parish is the sheriff, because the mayor is term limited, and the sheriff is not,” Johnson said. “And so the thought must be about how that position is used to maintain and enhance that power. That’s the reality of it.”
Gusman told The Lens in an interview last week that he wants to build a “smaller, safer” jail complex, comparing his projection of a 4,200 bed complex to the 7,500 beds that his office administered before Hurricane Katrina. Gusman added that his day-reporting center, fast-track and work-release programs reduce the number of inmates serving time in his jails. The Lens offered Gusman the opportunity to respond to Johnson’s remarks this afternoon, but Gusman declined. Gusman took issue with those remarks in a news release issued Thursday night.
In July, the city actually convened two stakeholders groups around the jail — the closed working group, but also a so-called “advisory committee” to the working group, which included the Vera Institute of Justice, Norris Henderson, from Voice of the Ex-offender, and Loyola law professor Stephen Singer. It’s not clear whether that advisory group will continue to be a part of the process, with the formalizing of the new working group. But some advocates for a smaller jail are concerned about those voices being lost.
“Norris Henderson has been a powerful advocate over the years, and the committee would certainly benefit from hearing his perspective,” said Dana Kaplan, with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, which organized a full-page advertisement protesting the jail expansion in The Times-Picayune on Sept. 8.
Though the new group may be more skeptical, Johnson is the only member of the new working group whose name appeared amid the hundreds listed in the advertisement.
The new group will also produce a prison-bed report, working with the National Institute of Justice’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.
“The mayor picked the members of the group, he picked stakeholders and decision makers in the criminal justice community who have the most influence over the policies that determine the number of inmates in the prison,” said Landrieu’s spokesman, Ryan Berni.
Berni said the group will decide, internally, how to make decisions, but that he expected it to rely heavily on the National Institute of Justice report to make its recommendation. The new group will meet first on Oct. 11, Berni said, and it will hold two open hearings for the public to weigh in.
Members of the new group:
Deputy Mayor & CAO Andy Kopplin, Chairman
Deputy Mayor for Facilities, Infrastructure & Community Development Cedric Grant
Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Jerry Sneed
City Attorney Nannette Jolivette-Brown
Sheriff Marlin Gusman
Superintendent of Police Ronal Serpas
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro
Chief Judge Paul Sens, New Orleans Municipal Court
Chief Judge Julian Parker, New Orleans Criminal District Court
Deputy Chief Judge Terry Alarcon, New Orleans Criminal District Court
Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson, New Orleans Criminal District Court
Chief Judge Dennis Dannel, New Orleans Traffic Court
Council member Jackie Clarkson
Council member Susan Guidry
Council member Stacy Head
Derwyn Bunton, Orleans Parish Public Defender
The Rev. Antione Barriere, Household of Faith
Calvin Johnson, Metropolitan Human Services District
Nolan Rollins, Urban League of New Orleans
Rafael Goyeneche, Metropolitan Crime Commission
Flozell Daniels, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
Michael Cowan, Common Good
Lucas Diaz, Puentes New Orleans