The Morals Money Ignores

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[Abuse] [Riverbend Detention Center] [Louisiana]
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The Morals Money Ignores

The last few weeks at Riverbend Detention Center have been more trying than usual. Despite the usual complaints about prisons (bad food, dishonest guards, lack of protocol for inmates, etc). This facility is one of several dozen privately run prisons in this state over which there are very few governing statutes all of which are unreasonably vague. We have no protection legally from our captors. We are fed like second graders, cheated at commissary, and denied visitation. Riverbend is owned and operated by the local sheriff in a backwoods parish of a notoriously backwoods state. Money is a determining illusion in the voters decisions because there is no revenue at all. As part of his campaign, Sheriff Wydet made it his point to exploit the unused space in his jail to house DOC inmates. Like most of the poorer parishes, the prison is the primary employer. This is a result of the low educational standards (another record held by Louisiana). This summer was unusual for us because a portion of the prison (one of three buildings), which up until now was used for storage, was refurbished to be ready to accept prisoners again for this fall. Several men were put to work, all were occasionally paid scraps of extra food or a couple of cigarettes but they made it happen. Even if they did it right at the deadline set by their slave drivers (thank you 13th amendment), but DOC didn't send any prisoners - somebody else did.

After Katrina, New Orleans was constantly both rebuilding (which is still going on) and restructuring. Being a transplant to this state listening to the horror stories told by the prisoners who were in OPP during the storm (they were abandoned for a week) seems like something that couldn't happen in a Christian based land, but we all know now that it can and does. The prison, however, has been getting a makeover. Orleans Sheriff Marlon Gusman pushed for years to get funding to build a brand new 1400+ bed facility so that he could shut down the Main Jail at the Sheriff’s office. Orleans employed five separate jails when I was there in 2010. The Sheriff's office was split down the middle to create CLU and HOD. Then had tent city next door, which was literally eight military hangar-type tents. These three no longer exist in their prior functions. The other two are Conchetta (which is used for DOC) and the Old Parrish (which is in the court house to hold violent offenders and escape risks). The new prison utilizes a large re-entry program that is only a couple years old but both New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Gusman insist has lowered recidivism. September 10, 250 pre-trial inmates of every spectrum of the criminal code were moved three and a half hours away to Lak Providence. They are here now, mixed together under no variation or classification (murderers with sex offenders with pot dealers with traffic violators) and being guarded by the lowest common denominator of the states workforce. This is for an increased rate of $30 a day per head, a 20% increase from staying in Orleans to be milked from the taxpayers. Some of the guards enjoy telling us about their time in prison and how that makes them one of us.

The Orleans public pretender office is taking issue with this because they are also broke and short staffed. Traveling here to see their clients is obviously unrealistic to both the lawyers and the clients. Who are now going to be down several months longer due to missed court dates and other scheduling conflicts. A motion to forbid Gusman from moving pretrial detainees before DOC inmates was put before U$ District Judge Lance Africk, who is overseeing a federal consent decree aimed at reforms at OPP; Africk ordered Gusman to appear in his chambers to discuss these problems. The Sheriff has so far ignored all attempts to work out some other alternative, he obviously wanted this move to happen. Something tells me he'll be bringing money when he visits the judge. As Darren Sharper and Jaime Foxx have shown, prosecution in New Orleans only happens when District Attorney Leon Canazarro doesn't get paid.

The prison here is full and content not unlike a corpulent child after a buffet. No one here seems to mind and I will tell you from experience that Gusman will not do anything unless it appeals to his own personal interest.

Now, I could expound on the human cost or push the legality of access to one's lawyer but all of those things make sense. Not dollars. I've seen almost every state in this union but nothing compares to what I've been forced to witness in Louisiana. I tell you that this will be the outcome for the rest of this country and all capitalist societies. Prisons come before schools, profits come before rights and politics come before people.


Sources: Public defender: transfer keeps OPP inmates from counsel; Jim Mustian, Baton Rouge, The Advocate 9/18/15.

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