Inmates who help with parade cleanup absent for first time in decades


Posted on February 24, 2014 at 6:10 PM

Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @mikeperlstein

NEW ORLEANS -- Carnival krewes come and go from the New Orleans parade schedule, but one significant withdrawal this season isn’t likely to be noticed by spectators.

Orleans Parish Prison inmates who traditionally help sanitation crews behind all the major parades will be absent this season for the first time in decades.

The work release inmates – known by their tongue-in-cheek nickname, the Krewe of Trash – were a last-minute scratch when the sheriff’s office realized there weren’t enough qualified inmates to participate, sheriff’s office spokesman Phil Stelly said.

Within the criminal justice system, the change is being applauded as an unanticipated result of recent reforms to reduce the jail’s inmate population.

With the transfer of most non-violent misdemeanor defendants from state court to municipal court, far fewer of these low-risk inmates are behind bars, Stelly said. Overall, the jail population has dropped from more than 7,000 before Hurricane Katrina to about 2,500 today.

“We tried to qualify enough inmates to provide that service, but we just didn’t have the numbers,” Stelly said. “We simply don’t have enough municipal offenders being incarcerated.”

In past years, the sheriff’s office provided about two dozen inmates to trail behind the parades, scooping and bagging debris from the route.

Two years ago, Sheriff Marlin Gusman proudly announced that work release inmates logged more than 3,000 man-hours cleaning up miles of discarded go cups, broken beads and parade trash.

“It’s a service the sheriff’s office has provided for years,” Stelly said. “It’s always been based on the number of municipal offenders in our community service program based on the lengths of their sentences, and we just don’t have enough of those types of inmates this year.”

The cancellation came as a surprise to the city sanitation department, but won’t pose any disruptions to the cleanup effort, city officials said.

Stelly was quick to point out that that several other Carnival services provided by the sheriff’s office will remain intact, including the mobile booking center and deputies for crowd control.

“The sheriff's office will continue to provide public safety and service during the Mardi Gras season by supplementing NOPD officers assigned to parades routes, staging the booking bus near the 8th District police station and having reserve deputies staff a safe area for lost children at St. Charles and Louisiana avenues,” Stelly said.

While the city will find other resources to fill the gap in the parade cleanup, New Orleans Deputy CAO Ava Rogers said the city is thankful for the other services provided by the sheriff’s office.

“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is providing additional security services and booking resources this Carnival season,” Rogers said in a written statement. “We are thankful for OPSO’s continued partnership along with all the local, state and federal agencies that work with the City to ensure a safe Carnival experience for residents and visitors.”