New Orleans Business Leaders Support Care Over Cages

Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Care comes from people, not cages. As business leaders in the community, we must take a stand against jail expansion in New Orleans by encouraging Mayor Cantrell to file an appeal and do everything in the city’s power to fight back against the construction of a new jail building (called “Phase III”).

  • People with severe mental illness are overcriminalized throughout the country, particularly in New Orleans. The city is in dire need of a community-based mental health services building to serve and care for New Orleanians who find themselves at the intersection of mental illness and the criminal legal system.
  • The city can’t afford to build another jail. The Phase III psychiatric jail would cost $184 million in construction, maintenance, and staffing costs over 35 years. The city only has $36 million in FEMA funds to spend on a facility that promotes public safety and is facing a projected loss of $137 million in sales tax revenue in 2021. As our city continues to suffer through the impact of the global pandemic, the last thing our community needs is our tax dollars wasted on an unnecessary facility.  
  • The less expensive alternative plan to retrofit the existing jail building offers the opportunity for a continuum of care outside of the carceral system. The retrofit plan construction costs would total approximately $10 million, with no increase in future operating costs. This plan would also permit the city to use FEMA funds to build a community wellness center to care for people with serious mental illness outside of the carceral system.

We all want to live and build our businesses in a community where everyone can be safe and thrive. We don’t want our city to be forced to waste money it doesn’t have on an unnecessary jail building. Let’s signal our support for the city’s alternative plan to retrofit the current jail in order to provide constitutionally adequate care for detainees with special needs and take a stand against jail expansion.

Sponsored by

To: Mayor LaToya Cantrell
From: [Your Name]

We are business and civic leaders engaged in undoing New Orleans’s regrettable history of over-incarceration – including incarceration of the mentally disabled. Recent reforms have reduced the jail population enough to leave more than 400 empty beds and no need for a new jail. We stand behind your plan to retrofit the current jail to provide constitutionally adequate care for detainees with special needs.

Your office and City Council face formidable challenges trying to balance the City’s budget without imposing extraordinary hardship on residents. They are standing up to federal court pressure to build an unnecessary “mental health jail” at a cost of $120 million over the next 10 years. This money can be better spent elsewhere; including better care for people in jail, and meeting the needs of those with mental disabilities in the community—not in jail.

We applaud the determination of your office and the City Council to retrofit rather than expand. We call on you to vigorously prosecute an appeal of the District Court’s ruling ordering the City to proceed with the new jail design. We support your pursuit of all legal options available to avoid the unnecessary costs, both in dollars and human lives, of building another jail. Direct resources instead to the root causes of poverty, racism, and mental disability by funding community mental health facilities, housing, and employment opportunities, so we can build businesses and live in a community where everyone can be safe.