October 31, 2017

Nov. 1st: Prison Releases. Nov. 2nd: New Orleans Mayoral Endorsement

On November 1st, Louisiana’s “Justice Reinvestment” legislative changes go into effect. On Nov. 2nd, Voters Organized to Educate will help you “Know Your Vote” by endorsing in the New Orleans Run-Off election. On Nov. 3rd, Early Voting opens in Orleans Parish for a 2-week period before the Nov. 18th Election Day.

Over the past 50 years, the New Orleans area has absorbed nearly a million people released from incarceration. They came looking for work, a place to stay and to start a new life. Many made it. Others did not. Last month, approximately a quarter of the 1,500 people released from state custody came to Orleans Parish, and many others to Jefferson Parish. On Nov. 1st the number will double. That does not include a few hundred people who can be released from the city jail. Our elected leaders may believe people disappear after sentencing, or are “someone else’s problem,” or are simply out of sight, out of mind. Nearly everyone ever incarcerated, however, will eventually get out.

What do candidates have to say about reentry?

What ways have the Mayoral candidates, Desiree Charbonnet and LaToya Cantrell, prepared for the annual number of people returning to be residents of New Orleans? The City’s traditional investment to handle “Reentry” has been to build more jail cells and hire more police. This “catch and release and catch again” cycle is where the “Reinvestment” needs to be a re-tooling of the massive investments made in police, prosecution and prisons. D.A. Leon Cannizzaro, a former judge, has set the bar for mass incarceration. The sheer number of per-capita people from New Orleans, either in jail or prison through the power of the D.A., is daunting. Other cities lag far behind and could never keep up.

Throughout this election we have been fortunate to hear some candidates set a new norm: prisons, and everything that revolves around them, are killing us. Some of them have a solid understanding on the deeper problems caused by over-policing, over-prosecuting, and over-penalizing our people before society brands them for life with a second-class citizenship. Unfortunately, too few get elected, and even fewer have much of a grasp on developing solutions. The positive policy changes we are beginning to see are those that have been fought for by Voice of the Experienced, and other directly impacted people, for decades. Now we are seeing Gov. John Bel Edwards, and others, showing the type of courageous leadership for Louisiana that is desperately needed in New Orleans.

On November 1st, over 100 people will attend the monthly meeting of Voice of the Experienced, from 6-7:30pm, at 2022 St. Bernard Avenue. People there include many who have been released, and nearly all are awaiting the release of the people they love most. If New Orleans bottled the knowledge at that meeting, regarding rehabilitation, reentry, and discrimination- the city would have the power to transform the City from feeders of mass incarceration to a cultural and economic renaissance. In this Tricentennial year, little could be more epic than that.

Who is being released from prison on Nov. 1st?

The people coming out are all shaving off a small portion of their sentences for non-violent offenses; sentences that were already too long, and some certainly doing time for petty crimes that would surprise even the most “Law and Order” amongst us. Getting out a few months early will force more than a few grandmothers to set another plate at the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Our returning residents will be side-by-side with all of us enjoying this surprisingly sensational Saints football season. Employers should expect a burst in applications. As should soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms. The line between success and failure can be during the course of 15 minutes, or cost but $100.

New releases will also benefit from new laws awarding additional Good Time credits and connecting court debt to their “Ability to Pay.” Those who fall immediately into criminal or addictive behavior will likely be quickly re-arrested. One way of ensuring failure would be to arrest and imprison everyone struggling to pay their debts- whether it is debt with the Court or with American Express.

The City has long failed to build supportive programs for our community members with criminal records. Elected officials have never collectively mustered the political will to commit the funds, except for (until only recently) the blank check historically given to the Sheriff and District Attorney. Some would write such a check for the police department and expand their forces to expand the “catch and release and catch again” program. While City Council approves the budgets and the Judges have free reign to sentence anyone for as long as the law allows, with no consideration of costs, all these elected leaders have intersecting responsibilities. It is up to us to elect those who will reinvest all of that. To that end, the appeal is complete in VOTE v. Louisiana, a lawsuit that would restore voting rights to about 8000 people in New Orleans, and 80,000 statewide by the time it is heard. Learn more on the litigation here.

Run-Off Election on Nov. 18th

Voters can check KnowYourVoteNola on Nov. 2nd (tomorrow) to download the Voter Guide, including endorsed candidates for office. During the Primary Election, Voters Organized supported Kristen Giselson Palmer to replace incumbent Nadine Ramsey, primarily for her support in building a larger jail. Ramsey lost by 111 votes. That is less than the number of people who attended the Public Safety Candidates Forum held by The Power Coalition, including Voice of the Experienced.

Click here to see your ballot.

Early Voting Nov. 3rd – 11th, Monday through Friday, 8am – 4:30pm

  • City Hall, 1300 Perdido Street, Room 1W24
  • Algiers Courthouse. 225 Morgan Street, Room 105
  • Chef Menteur Voting Machine Warehouse Site, 8870 Chef Menteur Highway
  • Lake Vista Community Center, 6500 Spanish Fort Blvd.

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