New Jail Construction Approved
Posted on Feb 4, 2011 in Courts, Local Issues, NOPD
New Orleans has lead the nation for largest jail per-capita, with a pre-Katrina prison complex with 7,500 and a current complex of 3,550 beds, but that will change soon. A plan has been approved by the city council to build a new jail with 1,438 beds despite objections by Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
A working group created by Mayor Mitch Landrieu was tasked with deciphering how large of a complex is needed by the city and with the help of respected correctional expert James Austin decided 1,438 beds would suffice. Gusman has been repeating the original number recommended by Dr. Austin, which was 2,017, as an objection to the building of such a small facility. He as stated that as Sheriff he does not want to reject any inmates because of a lack of beds. However, Gusman failed to mention that Dr. Austin made a second recommendation that after policy changes the facility would only need between 1,400 and 1,500 beds.
Those policy changes have already been initiated and have reduced the number of inmates dramatically. The changes allowed officers to issue court summonses rather than making an arrest for some nonviolent offenses, such as misdemeanor marijuana possession. Before the new guidelines, only two percent of inmates had been arrested for violent felonies. It has also been recommended that the city end the practice of holding 1,000 of the state’s inmates in our local prisons.
The smaller jail will hopefully lower the number of arrests made in the city and better serve the people. It has been suggested that a large prison would incentivize the sheriff’s office to make a larger number of arrests for frivolous crimes. Gusman disagrees saying, “My wish is for us to be the safest community in America. But we’re not going to wish our way there.” Gusman must close down all the temporary tents and aging buildings currently used by the sheriff’s department once the new facility is completed.
After the measure passed, Gusman released a statement through a PR firm stating that he wishes to continue working with the mayor’s office and city council in making the city safer.