Katy Reckdahl | March 31, 2016

How to Shrink a Jail

Soon after Michael Burns, 42, was booked for a drunk driving violation, he changed into an orange jumpsuit and was led into Orleans Parish Prison. As he entered the jail door, he passed a yellowed and tattered sign: “Caution: you are now entering a real jail.”

Like countless inmates before him, Burns understood that the warning meant that he was entering a notorious New Orleans lockup, most often referred to as OPP.

Jails can be a sign of a criminal justice system gone haywire. OPP had already been under U.S. Department of Justice oversight for five years when Burns was booked into the jail in April 2014. But, over the next eight months, Burns saw that most of the conditions that had led to the scrutiny continued unchecked: random violence, squalid conditions, scarce medical care, a constantly changing roster of guards and food delivered to each tier in a big pan, to be distributed unequally according to the whims of the tier’s lead inmate.

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