PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
The number 1 point to keep track of during the jail reform process is how skewed the budgets of the Criminal Sheriff and Police Department are and how money impacts, perpetuates and permeates the entire issue.
The second part of the money issue is all the money is being spent the ‘easy’ way via minor arrests, instead of the ‘hard’ way, going after violent offenders. It’s a matter of reinventing many institutions, a difficult task politically.
The whole idea is to arrest as many people as possible to keep the money flowing. It’s the lowest common denominator system. Everyone is arrestable on some charge.
The judges, magistrates, probation officers, sheriffs deputies, police, attorneys, district attorneys, bail bondsmen- all are kept in business each time a single person is arrested for not paying his traffic fine, missing court, etc.
The number 2 issue is Cannizzaro, who came into office with very good intentions but mucked up the Diversion system by doing 2 things:
A- He moved a number of non drug charges in the Diversion eligible category.
B- He doubled the length of all Diversion programs.
The effect of these moves crippled Diversion and reduced the counselors to caretakers with huge workloads and hundreds of clients, just like the Public Defender’s office. Each Public Defender has150 cases each as of yesterday.
Simultaneously, by doubling the length to up to 2 years, he made completing the course much more difficult and drastically lowered the numbers graduating from the program .
Also simultaneously, most of the Criminal Court Judges woke up and started using Diversion regularly when the D.A offered it. This again caused a huge spike in Diversion participants.
Around 1/5 of all those arrested are picked up for missing traffic court and/or not paying fines.
Around 1/5 of all those arrested are picked up for lite charges like missing court, public drunkenness, criminal trespass (you can be on Claiborne at 1 pm but if you are drunk, you will go to jail for both charges), 1/2 joint or less possession, paraphernalia possession, etc.
Around 1/5 of all those arrested have charges like simple burglary, selling drugs is very popular, and lite violence like minimal domestic violence charges.
1/5 of those arrested are violent types who belong in jail, they are segregated from the other 3/4 of the population that is mostly non violent or lite violent.
Point 3 compares Orleans parish to the surrounding parishes in terms of who they arrest, who they keep in jail, and what is the average prisoner population day in and day out.
Jefferson has a bigger population (100,000 people) post Katrina than Orleans, yet averages around 900 people daily in their jail, and serves far better food with far better recreation services and vastly shorter jail stays for minor arrests.
Another key part of point 3- Orleans treats everyone one way- poorly compared to the jail practices all around us. Go to Plaquemines, Westwego, Jefferson, Kenner, the North Shore, etc., and you’ll find better quarters, recreation, much better food, treatment, etc. than Orleans offers daily. By comparison, OPP is overcrowded, bad food, no smoking, no recreation or books of any kind or store privileges for many inmates. Orleans is chronically short of mattresses for incoming prisoners with as little as 5 or 6 mattresses for 17 prisoners.
Point 4 is the vast majority of those arrested are poor and cannot make bond, keeping them in jail and keeping all those people employed. The police mostly pick on relatively poor people who don’t have the resources to defend themselves well. They depend on the Public Defenders and plead guilty often and get jail time for the same ‘crimes’ that more well to do defenders avoid with their own lawyers much of the time.
Point 5 is how Guzman increased his popularity with the New Mayor and Governor by cutting his staff by 1,000 jobs without any regard to seniority. Everyone saw Guzman as a big budget slayer. He also killed the morale of the Deputies when seniority was abolished for the layoffs. For the Deputies, if you are not in the ‘in’ crowd, you probably lost your job.
Today’s Times-Picayune has an article entitled Gusman Warns of Budget Deficit. Mayor Landrieu has instituted ground breaking new policies intended to reduce the number of inmates in New Orleans’ jails, such as no longer arresting people wanted on traffic or misdemeanor warrants from neighboring parishes. Sheriff Gusman told the City Council on Tuesday that the city is budgeting millions of dollars less than his office in 2011 than he will need to keep the jail running.
Kudos go to Mayor Landrieu for changing this long standing noxious policy that was responsible for locking up thousands of New Orleanians and tourists for decades.
Last year, NOPD made an astounding 20,000 such arrests, according to corrections expert James Austin, who says he has never seen a number like that before in his studies of jails throughout the nation.
Neighboring parishes have for years not arrested their own residents for traffic warrants. Jefferson has more than 167,000 outstanding traffic warrants, according to Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche.
Chief of Police Ronald Serpas told the Council Monday that officers will no longer arrest and book people they stop who have outstanding traffic or misdemeanor warrants from neighboring parishes. He said the policy doesn’t make economical or common sense. Serpas said he will also pursue updates to city ordinances to allow his officers to issue summons instead of arrests in more circumstances.