New Orleans Jailer Makes Positive Move to Reduce Jail Population!

•July 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment
Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman

Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman

 

Marlin Gusman is on the hot seat. He’s got a brand new jail but inmate deaths, and other large problems hound him. In an attempt to fix matters before things get any worse, Gusman has hired a public defender client advocate and Loyola University graduate to attempt to reduce prison population by 21 percent within 24 months. That is hefty but doable plan. The new employee will determine where to house inmates when the jail is full; identify inmates that may safely be released; and hasten court processing in matters that have been unduly delayed, according to a sheriff’s office news release issued earlier this week.

Virginia B. Ryan will serve as Justice System Administrator for the sheriff’s office. The job was created using funds from a $1.5 million grant awarded to the sheriff’s office by the John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to lower the jail’s population and reduce purported racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system nationwide, according to the news release.

Ryan graduated from Loyola with a degree in sociality, then in 2010 joined the Orleans Parish Defender’s Office as a client advocate. According to the news release, Ryan works for the wrongful-conviction nonprofit Resurrection after Exoneration organization.  Over the last few months, federal court officials and inmate advocates  have pressured Ryan’s boss, Gary Maynard, to hire key staff positions that been unfilled of late, in light of the raft of multiple jail suicides that have once again hounded Gusman again.

New Hiree Virginia Ryan

We’re pleased to have someone with Virginia’s experience join our team, Maynard wrote in the news release.  She has a strong working relationship with our criminal justice partners, so we anticipate that she will have an immediate impact on our ability to navigate cases through the criminal justice system more equitably.

This is all very good. Gusman’s performance has been very spotty on a lot of levels for a long time, and this move finally might steer him in a better direction. The first job of a boss is to hire the most competent staff possible, and then let them do their jobs.

Ryan comes at a very needed time for Orleans Parish Prison. Public Defender funding has been cut severely and in April, nine former and current New Orleans public defenders took to 60 Minutes to rail against the budget reductions, which they believe causes unwarranted imprisonment of innocent people because public defenders were too overworked to properly defend them.

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Probation Officers’ Workloads Continue to Grow, Grow, Grow!

•July 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Our esteemed Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a group of bills overhauling criminal sentencing guidelines and laws. Edwards believes this group of bills will lead to a 10% reduction in the state prison population over the next decade, plus a decrease in crime rates. Thank you Governor Edwards for your excellent leadership here.

An estimated 1,200 extra  inmates will be released on probation or parole within 2 years due to these new sentencing reduction laws.  Most of the probation workers support these new laws, even though it will increase their workload substantially. The probation officers believe these new measures will lower recidivism, eventually reducing officers’ work loads. But for the immediate future, the opposite is true, even though probation and parole resources won’t get any additional support.

This decrease in services and additional cases could lead to staff leaving the department, which would generate more work for each officer.

Low pay, giant caseloads and the stressful nature of the job means job attrition rates have always been high. A new probation officer earns $30,056, which hasn’t changed since 2007. Our neighboring state of Texas starts their probation officers at $39,700 and Mississippi pays 36,200.

According to New Orleans District Supervisor Richard Berger, when (officers) are leaving at such a fast rate, a lot of times people get set aside, and they’re not getting the services they should because we can’t shuffle them around enough. This leaves to very high officer attrition rate, as the grass really is greener in nearby states. Salaries are far higher for comparable jobs in Louisiana also. At the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries , an officer’s starting salary is $46,612. That is 50% higher than the starting salary for a probation and parole officer. Th

Probation and Parole Gear

New Iberia District Supervisor Danny Barras told lawmakers during a recent hearing, you used to be able to pay your bills. Lawmakers got the message, the state budget that started July 1 authorizes a 2 percent raise to probation and parole officers. That starts immediately. In January, roughly half will be getting an additional pay bounce of $3,362. In 2018, the starting salary moves up to $34,632 which is still less than neighboring states but at least we are making progress in the right direction.

Probation and parole caseloads average 175 cases per worker, which is sky high. Recently this dropped to 150 with the hiring of 20 officers statewide.

Body Cameras Stay Home on Cops’ Second Jobs!

•June 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Cameras are mandatory for their first jobs, of course. An Associated Press poll of the 20 biggest cities in America found that only five have rules requiring them to wear them during moonlighting work. New Orleans is not one of the five. Police Departments say there are too many logistical hurdles and costs to contend with. I don’t think those reasons are very good ones. It’s important in today’s world that police are accountable every minute they are on the street wearing a sidearm and or their uniform.

New York City, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Columbus, Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas and Philadelphia have no department requirement requiring cops on second jobs to wear their cameras. Nevertheless, virtually all police departments have regulations stating that off duty cops still represent the department and the city and are subject to police regulations when they are moonlighting. Many times, off duty cops are the nearest to some calamity and are the first responders. When trouble erupts, it doesn’t matter if the officer is on or off duty.

In Louisiana, a off duty cop who didn’t have his camera on was sentenced to 40 years in jail for manslaughter for the death of a 6 year old following a car chase. The case hinged on an on-duty officer’s body camera which depicted the boy’s father had his hands up and sticking out of his window when the former officer and the moonlighting officer together fired 18 shots. After the barrage ceased, the footage shows the officer’s realization that the child was in the passenger seat.

Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis are among the cities requiring off duty cops to wear their cameras. Cincinnati police Captain Doug Wiesman says it’s a mistake not to have them. Your officers are wearing their uniforms, who cares who is paying them? That is an excellent point.

170 departments have received U.S. Justice Department grants for body cameras. It is hard to find any mention of equipping moonlighting officers, according to Michael White, who works with those cities on technical assistance and training. It’s an evolving issue, but I think it’s something departments will need to start addressing, said White, who is also a criminology professor at Arizona State University. It should be part of the uniform just like anything else.

Prison Reform Package Passes Louisiana House and Senate!

•June 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Orleans Parish Prison

Hell has indeed frozen over, because all 10 bills in the huge overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system passed both legislative chambers and the governor has signaled his willingness to sign the bill into law. Why now? I guess the legislature is finally tired of Louisiana’s well deserved but unwanted designation as the most highly incarcerated state in America.

While celebrating with jubilant member of the legislature, the Governor said in a statement, today’s progress on the criminal justice reform package coming out of both chambers demonstrates that we can find bipartisanship and collaboration among our elected leaders in Louisiana on tough initiatives that prioritize the best interests of our people. I am proud of the Legislatives’ work on these historic bills and look forward to signing them into law when they make it to my desk.

What is really going on here? It seems our esteemed governor Edwards is just following through on one of his main campaign promises, to reduce Louisiana’s world’s highest incarceration rate. For too long, Louisiana has had the ignominious distinction of having highest incarceration rate in the nation, Edwards said, We will soon begin to reverse that trend very soon. 

According to the Pew Institute, the implementation of all ten bills will reduce Louisiana’s prison population by 10% over the next 10 years. The savings created by the state no longer housing so many inmates is projected to be approximately $262 million, of which 70%  has been earmarked for programs that support victims and rehabilitate offenders.

 

D.A.’s Controversial Tactics Under Attack!

•May 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Has District Attorney Cannizzaro lost it? Fake subpoenas? The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Foundation has sued the Orleans Parish District Attorney over his surprising practice of issuing fake subpoenas to unwilling witnesses in an attempt to get them to court. The problem is, the subpoenas were never authorized by a judge.

That makes them worthless, but not to our hapless and clueless District Attorney. The documents appear to be legitimate, as appear to be real documents. They say, SUBPEOENA: A FINE AND IMPRISONMENT MAY BE IMPOSED FOR FAILURE TO OBEY THIS NOTICE. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman has stated that no witnesses who received the phony subpoena has been jailed. Bowman added that this practice predates Cannizzaro’s term.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on a Sad Day

The North Shore and Jefferson Parish District Attorneys have done the exact same thing, though there were slight variations in the actual documents.  Seems like all these departments have lost some marbles along the way. This practice is very quasi legal. We live in a society of laws, and when one branch of the legal system starts making their own rules, the entire system flounders.

The MacArthur Justice Center’s suit accuses the Orleans Parish DA’s office of illegally ignoring an earlier public records request by Attorney Emily Washington for copies of all Article 66 subpoenas. Why did Washington want these documents?  He was concerned about the possible abuse of authority by the DA for possibly issuing subpoenas even when no criminal prosecution was intended or subsequently occurred.

In 2015, this request was denied by the Orleans prosecutors office. No database exists for these subpoenas, Washington was told. Later he was told his request was overly burdensome, then too costly, and finally that the records sought were with the Orleans Criminal District Clerk of Court.

All these denials fly in the face of what First Assistant District Attorney Grayson Martin said last month. He said he had no formal method of record keeping for these subpoenas. The District Attorney’s staff misled us about where to find subpoenas, at best, said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans., speaking about the lawsuit.

Katie Schwartzmann

Next, Washington put in record requests seeking the subpoenas to each Criminal District judge and the Criminal District Court Clerk’s office, but was denied these requests. The judges replied collectively through a judicial administrator, stating the subpoena records weren’t in their custody. The clerk’s office denied the request, stating it couldn’t identify them without a review of roughly 15,000 case files per year.

The lawsuit is claiming that the subpoenas can’t be found or were not preserved, as legally required, and wants to DA’s office to face penalties for violating Louisiana’s open records law. The MacArthur’s lawsuit also examines the state law that allows the district attorneys or the attorney general the power to issue Article 66 subpoenas. They claim it is unconstitutional.

District attorneys or the attorney general are required by article 66 to establish reasonable grounds for a judge to order a person to appear for questioning by prosecutors. If a judge agrees to issue the subpoena, the clerk’s office issues it. The suit questions if reasonable grounds is too low a bar to issue a subpoena, stating a higher burden of probable cause should be required.

What Does Austerity Bring to a Big Louisiana Jail?

•April 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve got a friend from a well to do family from uptown New Orleans who had a problem breaking into unlocked cars and stealing the contents to support a drug habit. After years of stealing like this, he got caught and convicted and sent to Angola State Penitentiary on a 9 year sentence. He’s 3 years into the sentence and was recently moved to a private for profit (bad idea!) called Allen Correctional Center.

Allen Correctional Center

After receiving a $13,000 Pell grant for his first two semesters earning his associate’s degree, he got shipped in the middle of his second semester. That’s right, college in prison costs big bucks, and the government is happy to issue you a Pell grant to pay for it.  Allen has an associate’s program also, but it takes a few weeks to get back in.

Allen’s conditions are more chaotic than Angola’s and the laid back atmosphere that Angola had is non existent in Allen. There are few guards at Allen, they are undertrained, and the inmates are much younger serving far shorter sentences of a couple of years. Allen is a world of difference compared to Angola. Almost all the younger inmates care about is getting high, and it’s a veritable drug store inside Allen.

The library, gym, votech school and big yard are all shut down because these privately run jails get paid only 24 dollars a day to house state inmates and there’s not enough money to run the place as a real prison, so most of the time inmates are locked down in their dorms. Lock and feed is what this is called and it’s all the inmates do.

My friend lucked out in that right after getting there, he got a job in the prison commissary filling other inmates’ store orders, stocking shelves, and unloading trucks. Only six inmates work there out of an inmate population of over 1,300. It’s considered one of the better jobs and he’s very glad to have it. It keeps  busy Monday through Friday from 7am to 3 or 4 pm. Worst thing is Allen’s all the way damn near to Lake Charles which is over 3 hours from New Orleans. So visitation is going to slow down to be at most once or twice a year.

 

 

Stolen Guns Causing Mayhem Throughout Town!

•March 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A record 600+ guns were reported stolen in New Orleans last year, an astounding number. It turns out robbers have zeroed in on cash, guns and jewelry as the most valuable, portable items they can steal. Thieves with hours in a house still only take these three items.  Criminals acquire guns in several ways, and stealing guns is a popular from cars remains a popular method.

Why people leave cash and guns in their cars I will never understand. I don’t own any guns and I’ve never left more than newspaper change in the car. I have a friend of a friend who is serving 10 years in Angola who fueled a heroin addiction by robbing open cars uptown of guns and cash. He’s a real clean looking fellow who the cops never suspected for years. He did a lot of horse by selling guns and collecting a lot of greenbacks. Half of all reported stolen guns were stolen from vehicles.

Car Waiting to be Burglarized

Federal authorities report that 60% of all gun thefts are never reported. I suppose people are embarrassed by their stupidity. Stories abound about people leaving their cars unlocked all day, with thousands of dollars in cash and an arsenal in the car.  Folks think leaving their keys on the dashboard is smart, as they are easy to find. That holds for any crooks walking by also.

What else do people leave in their cars? You’d be surprised- Car burglars take anything of value from cash, GPSs, electronics, digital cameras, I-pods, MP3 Players, expensive sunglasses, laptops, weapons and whatever else of value that is left insecure.