Math at Front of Latest Orleans Parish Prison Skirmish!
It’s a numbers game. Stacy Head, New Orleans City Council member, recently said, I’m shocked the public doesn’t get it, because it’s so simple. Head and Mayor Landrieu are in agreement here. Both want all state prisoners being held in Sheriff Gusman’s jail to be returned to to the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Those inmates are the key to the magic number, which is 1,800 beds. That’s the number of beds in the brand new jail tower (1,438) and the temporary detention center (340), which can stay open for an additional 18 months.
With this plan, no phase III building needs to be built right now, which is what jailer Marlin Gusman wants badly. Gusman and Landrieu have different visions for New Orleans. Gusman wants a bigger footprint for his jail, and Landrieu wants a smaller footprint. It’s just that simple.
Apparently our chief executive and chief jailer count differently. Or maybe they count similarly, but use the numbers in a dissimilar way. Gusman turned up the heat another notch by filing suit this week, asking the consent decree federal judge, Lance Africk, to order construction ASAP of another new jail. He did this within a fortnight of opening up his 1,438-bed new jail that cost $150 million. The court has ordered a compromise here, but with none coming, Gusman has upped the ante considerably by asking the judge to step in.
Another huge factor that complicates this issue is the 250 pretrial inmates Gusman sent to jails in Franklin and East Carroll parishes. Why he did this is anybody’s guess, it was a bone dry stupid move to say the least. The jailer stated that there was no room for these prisoners in the new jail. But there’s room for the 300+ state prisoners? The lead attorney for the indigent defenders group, Derwyn Bunton, stated earlier this month that his lawyers are very inconvenienced by their clients being hundreds of miles away. Some of these inmates have since returned.
Last week, Gusman filed two lawsuits against the mayor in civil district court, asking for additional funding and more moolah for his deputies. Funding issues between the mayor and the jailer precede the current administration. Without a doubt, the funding mechanism for Orleans Parish Prison is wrong. Landrieu is responsible for all parish prison costs. He has all of the responsibility with very little of the authority. All around the country, jails are paid for by state funds. NY state ponies up around $60,000 per inmate per year to keep a prisoner in jail.
In a late development, the New Orleans City Council voted last week 5-2 to back Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to bring back to Orleans Parish Prison the local prisoners awaiting trial that Gusman sent to northeast Louisiana jails. The City Council strongly condemns the transfer of any inmates in order to accommodate the continued housing of state DOC inmates. Such an outcome comes at great financial cost, while endangering compliance with the costly and burdensome OPP consent judgement, and flouting the very purpose for the construction of the new Phase II jail facility – the housing of local pretrial detainees.
Gusman’s team struck back quickly. An attorney for the Sheriff’s Office, James Williams, answered back a day later, lambasting the council and mayor, accusing them of neglecting public safety and prisoners’ needs. The city’s track record with the New Orleans Police Department becomes more evident each day. As criminals continue to wander the streets without fear, the city and the City Council try to manipulate numbers to reach arbitrary inmate statistics. What’s worse, they act without any regard to doing what it takes to keep people in jail and give them a chance at a productive life.