Citizens protest the expansion of the Orleans Parish Prison


Protestors gather for an action against prison expansion in front of the Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse on Thursday, April 14, 2016.

Taylor Galmiche

Lea Stern is a felon.

She has served time in prison, a fact that will mark her for the rest of her life.

She tells a crowd of protestors about the “x” on her back in front of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Stern claimed that her position as a black, female ex-inmate makes it systematically impossible for her and her children to integrate into society.

“Don’t you pay your price when your go to jail?” Stern questioned.

Grassroots organizations, Stand with Dignity, Black Youth Project 100 and Congress of Day Laborers of New Orleans, gathered in front of the courthouse on Thursday, April 14, to protest Sheriff Gusman’s plan to expand the Orleans Parish Prison System.

Protestors, such as Stern, shared their testimonies while highlighting the fact that New Orleans is known as the incarceration capitol of the world.

“We’re asking Gusman to have a meeting with us, a city forum and ask him what his intentions are to build a bigger jail,” said Roy Brumfield of Stand with Dignity.

A report by the JFA Institute showed that 68.7 percent of the Orleans Parish Prison population was African American, making up only 32.5 percent of the New Orleans metropolitan population, as of Nov. 3, 2014

The Hispanic population also feels victimized. Santos Alvarado, member of Congress of Day Laborers of New Orleans and Honduras native, came to the courthouse to stand in solidarity with our partner organization,

“We’re all in the same struggle of fighting against fighting against the criminalization of our communities,” Alvarado said.

The protest against minority criminalization was a part of a bigger conversation that day. Many of the protestors displayed “Fight for $15” shirts and signs, ready to join the global Fight for $15 protest transpiring later that day.

“The movement we are having here is intersecting Black Lives Matter along with Fight for $15 and Emigrational Justice … we all play a part in it,” said Gene Martin, national organizer for Fight for $15.

The protestors marched from the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the municipal court, where they continued to speak out against discrimination.

The march ended at Sherriff Marlin Gusman’s office, asking him to schedule a public forum regarding the plans for jail expansion.

From 2013-2014, Orleans Parish Prison’s average population decreased from 2,598 to 2,062. Gusman’s 1,438 bed facility opened in September; however, it was only phase II in a III phase plan. Gusman is fighting to open another facility that will hold 380 beds.

“All they want to do is keep sending us to jail … for small crimes … thinking that’s going to help us or change us. No, it’s not,” said Austin Washington, Stand with Dignity.

Ending her story, Stern summed up the sentiment of the protest.

“You want me to live as an upright citizen, so make it possible for me to do so,” Stern said.