Inmates in Orleans Parish Prison were the stars of a shocking video shown in Federal court in New Orleans on Tuesday. The video was shown during a hearing in connection with the proposed consent decree over the troubled Orleans Parish Prison system, and it showed instances of drug and alcohol use, as well as possession of at least one loaded weapon inside the jail.
But is wasn’t just the fact that inmates had access to drugs and alcohol, or even weapons, in jail that was so shocking. It was the manner in which they were possessed and used, and the cavalier nature of the display of it all that made it so compelling and disturbing.
“This is Orleans Parish Prison Gone Wild!”, said one inmate as he pushed a needle into his vein. The video shows an jail cell full of inmates. One man lights a joint. Another has a handful of pills: “We rolling like a dog in here,” someone says on the tape. “Medication, pills, drugs, heroin, crack.”
Inmates take cans of beer from a communal tub and share them in a large group, as if at a block party. None of them seem to be concerned with being noticed or caught by jail staff members.
Then out comes a loaded handgun. An inmate shows it off. He waves it around and unloads the clip – it’s loaded. “It is real,” someone says off-camera. “Believe that.”
“That’s how we rock in O-P-P, baby” a man shouts.
The Mayor’s Response
Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a statement early Wednesday critical of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office after the video was made public. Landrieu called for the U.S. Department of Justice to bring in a federal receiver to manage the jail.
“The videotape is outrageous,” Landrieu said. “I have never seen anything like it…. It is now clearer than ever that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is not keeping the prison secure and our city safe,” Landrieu said.
“The people of the city are investing over $226 million to build new prison facilities and over $30 million each year in the taxpayer money to operate the jail. I cannot in good conscience cut vital services or raise taxes to put even more money into an office where waste, fraud, and abuse run rampant. The only way to fix the problem is to put a federal receiver in place that will run a safe and secure jail in a financially responsible way”, Landrieu said.
Sure, everyone knows that inmates find ways to smuggle contraband into jails, and that drugs and alcohol – even sophisticated, homemade weapons – are common in prison environments. Even the most competent and diligent prison administrator cannot be faulted for the inability to contain 100% of contraband violations.
And while the source of this video and the circumstances of its creation are not readily known it is clear that, if the video is legitimate, these are not just minor contraband violations that fell through the cracks of the prison’s otherwise tight security system. Unfortunately, the video seems to lead one only to conclude that these scenes could not have taken place without an utter lack of security on the part of – or even worse, the assistance of – jail employees.
It is a frightening story, and one that is surely only beginning to unfold. Look for more updates on this one as time goes on.