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NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden (5:00 PM)
The NOLA Project presents this festive comedy that pits two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters in a war of words and wits
1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd (5:00PM- 11:00 PM)
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is inviting Grecophiles of all ages out to Bayou St. John for goat burgers, traditional music and dancing, and regional libations
The Convention Center (6:00PM-9:00 PM)
An experience for both foodies and wine connoisseurs with live music by Flow Tribe
Zephyr Field (7:00 PM)
New Orleans baseball against the Omaha Storm Chasers
One Eyed Jacks (7:30)
Sketchy Characters Productions brings you a comedy sketch and web series that plays off the madness of the French Quarter
Shadowbox Theatre (8:00 PM)
Straightforward conversational drama explores one area's gentrification through 50 years
Art Klub, 513 Elysian Fields Ave (8:00 PM)
An interactive and sparkling performance presented by Nari Tomassetti
The Little Gem Saloon (8:00 PM)
The fourth evening of a chamber music festival that has something for classical aficionados and dilettantes alike
Howlin’ Wolf (9:00 PM)
A funky two night celebration of the band’s 30th anniversary
Circle Bar (10:00 PM)
Rock around Lee Circle tonight
Gusman, Letten, Chang Talk La. Prison Reform
by Mary-Devon Dupuy
Even if you haven’t read Louisiana Incarcerated, Da Paper's eight-part series on our state’s prison system, you’ve probably heard a discussion about prison reform in Louisiana. Prison reform has been on the tip of everyone's tongues around here since Cindy Chang and her freshly laid-off cohorts penned the piece. To give the conversation a little more formality, Loyola decided to get the people who were the subjects of the story together Wednesday night and talk to each other about how to fix our state’s prison problem. And since there was a microphone, people in the crowd had a little to say about the matter, too.
In the series, Chang and co. took a look at what they characterized as a booming prison economy in Louisiana, where the most people are incarcerated per capita in the United States. The series also explored how those high incarceration rates impact the community, the people who spend time in jail and how they become a lifeline for local leaders.
Last night's conversation followed mostly the same framework. Since the series took a week to roll out in the newspaper, the discussion could not fit into one panel. The first part of the discussion, included mostly local officials - as well as Chang - and consisted of Chang, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman (who oversees OPP), State Rep. Wesley Bishop, Judge Jules D. Edwards, Dana Kaplan, and facilitator Dr. Andre Perry.
Chang put one of our imprisoners-in-chief, Letten, on the spot, asking, “Part of your job is putting people in prison. Are we locking up the right people for the right amount of time?”
“I’ve learned over the last 11 years is that the best part of our job is education and prevention,” Letten said. Although Letten shared that he sees potential for reform in many prisoners, the federal Justice Department's representative in the Gulf stands firm in his belief that many of the people serving life sentences are doing so for good reason.
“There are individuals out there who are predators, that are violent individuals who will kill for no legitimate reason whatsoever, that will not be rehabilitated. Those individuals have to be separated from society for a long time or for the duration of their lives.”
Letten admitted that he sees the value of fueling money into prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders, but lamented the fact that such options were too costly. Chang disagreed with the crux of his argument.
“Actually, it’s cheaper to have somebody go through a program than to give them room and board and 24 hour monitoring,” she said.
Judge Jules Edwards brought the “Ban the Box” to the table. The national movement to ban the inclusion of a “box 13” from job applications has gained a lot of momentum. Currently, this “box” requires all job applicants to admit whether or not they’ve ever been arrested before they get an interview with their potential employers.
The second piece of the discussion brought in citizen groups working with people in prison and to reform the prison system. The second panel was facilitated by Flozell Daniels of Foundation for Louisiana, and ncluded Norris Henderson (Executive Director of Voice of the Ex Offender), Melissa Sawyer, (Youth Empowerment Program), former YEP youths Darren Aldridge and Terry White, Adrienne Wheeler (Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana) as well as Chang and Letten from the first panel.
Former convict Darren Aldridge said that one of the hardest parts of leaving prison was convincing someone to hire him. “I couldn’t get a job because I got convicted in ’09 of a gun charge that wasn’t even mine.” Eldridge agreed that “the box” led to the majority of his issues with finding employment. “Once I told them what the charge was, there wasn’t no feedback, no call back, no nothing.”
Another former prisoner, Terry White, said that he would like to see more people questioning the conditions that lead people to commit crimes rather than the crimes themselves. “No body ever asked us ‘why?’ Basically, all they see is ‘they don’t care about nothing.’”
Norris Henderson opined, “Systemically, these jails are not set up to give people rehabilitation.” At 7:50 p.m., it was time for the audience to line up for questions.
After an uproar following Dr. Perry’s announcement that the Q and A would only last for ten minutes, audience members lined up to probe panelists on the hard questions.
“From recent experience, I can tell you that everything you’re saying is not working. You’re not talking about the money problem," he said. "The money they’re making inside the prison is prison enterprise. The state takes 75% of your earned income. If I made $300, they took $275. It’s a system designed to make money.”
Another woman asked Gusman what it would take for him to admit that there was a violence problem in the jail systems, including that since September of 2009, twelve inmates have died in the Orleans Parish Prison.
Gusman replied, “There is a violence problem in this community. And anyone who strikes someone, they’re arrested, whether they’re a deputy or an inmate, it really doesn’t matter.”
Another audience member asked Gusman about whether or not mentally ill inmates received medication. “They do get seen by medical professionals, psychiatrists, counselors, and the whole idea is to get them stabilized so they can go into general population,” Gusman said in response.
Activist Mama D, who was intermittently vocal throughout the presentation, exclaimed, “We didn’t understand why we had to sit on the back of the bus or why we had to pee on ourselves because we couldn’t use the bathroom. And these young people don’t understand why they got to plea.”
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