Following is a statement from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman regarding the pending City Council ordinance containing provisions that put timely construction plans for the new jail facility at risk:
â€śThe issue, at present, is NOT the number of beds that the ultimate build-out of the of the Orleans Parish prison facilities should have. We are willing to continue the dialog with the Working Group on this issue. The fact is that the provisos contained in the Ordinance being considered by the City Council will prevent the construction of the 1,438 bed facility that the Working Group has judged as needed. Stopping construction will be costly to taxpayers and prolong the use of antiquated prison facilities.
Several of the provisos that were added to the Council ordinance will kill the project because they are unreasonable, inappropriate, or in violation of state law or federal regulations. For example, requiring the Sheriffâ€™s Office to fund landscaping for portions of Tulane Avenue, located several blocks away from the jail facility, is of questionable legality. Some of the provisos are in direct conflict with each other. Other provisos are restrictive of our operations. For example, security and operational considerations do not permit all types of prisoners to be kept in the same facility. In some cases, clearly, the provisos indicate a misunderstanding of the operations of the Sheriffâ€™s Office. For instance, the Ordinance confuses the purpose of the McDaniels Center. This facility supports the Transitional Work Program, segregating working offenders from the general population. This segregation is a positive attribute of the program and lays the basis for the re-entry of these people back into society. Moreover, redesign of the 1,438-bed facility would delay the project and require substantial additional City funding for its accomplishment.
As originally proposed, our facilities will help New Orleans become a safer city. The new facilities will meet the highest standards for public safety set by the American Correctional Association. They were designed by national experts in the field, who considered every aspect of preferred jail design relative to safety of inmates, visitors and deputies. These advancements include best practice jail design for cell sizes, medical facilities, and a single, secure access for the processing of arrested individuals that directs traffic away from the surrounding neighborhood.
From the very beginning, my administration has sought input on the rebuilding from the neighborhood and stakeholders including our criminal justice agency partners. We have obtained all necessary permits and initiated the Conditional Use Permit process. We have participated in the work of the Mayorâ€™s group and attended public hearings, all in an effort to raise public awareness of our present conditions and the need for a new facility.
â€śDuring the time the size of the new jail has been discussed, the murder rate in our city has, unfortunately, not decreased. Just this week, the District Attorney announced that he is aggressively proceeding on a pace for 600 jury trials this year. While there have been some actions by the City Council to potentially reduce arrests for â€śminorâ€ť violations, it would be a rush to judgment to think we have this problem solved. The Working Group and the City Council have only just begun to consider the scope and cost of alternative measures that have been generally discussed and proposed as ways to reduce the jail population. Unless and until those conversations result in specific actions, the public cannot be assured that we have solved this issue.
Even before Katrinaâ€™s floods, the 7,500 beds were spread out over too wide an area. Some of these facilities are nearly 100 years old. By any communityâ€™s standards, they are inadequate and, operationally, strain our human and capital resources. Without new facilities, we will be forced to continue to operate with our existing facilities, approximately 3,500 beds, which all agree are outdated and inefficient.
We must proceed immediately with the construction of the new 1,438-bed facility. This is a project that will be paid for by FEMA, which means our funding is in jeopardy if the project is halted and attempts are made to redesign it. If the project does not go forward, the goals of this Office, the Mayor, the City Council and the Working Group will not be achieved.
The Sheriffâ€™s Office will continue to work with other public agencies and community groups to respond to questions and to address concerns. The effort that has been made by elected officials and community members in this regard is sincerely appreciated and valued. The Sheriffâ€™s Officeâ€™s understands its responsibility to rebuild wisely and in the best interests of the public. Accordingly, in the spirit of due diligence, the Sheriffâ€™s Office is compelled to alerted the public to a drastic mistake before it occurs.â€ť