The first major public building to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina wasn’t a public school, hospital or courthouse. It was Orleans Parish Prison. And you can hardly blame Sheriff Marlin Gusman for being anxious to reopen it. David Morton reports in the New Republic (August 14 & 21) that every prisoner brings in from $22.39 to $43.50 per day in government funding. The more prisoners, the more money. Before Katrina, Gusman’s jail averaged 6,000 inmates—4 percent of New Orleans’ adult male population.
According to Morton, Gusman’s predecessor, Charles Foti, began a practice of encouraging arrests in order to fill prison slots. After Katrina rendered many of the prison facilities unusable, Gusman reluctantly released some of the minor offenders. Calvin Johnson, chief judge of the criminal court, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “I’m not exaggerating: there were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk.”