Criminal Justice
 

Initial jail plan envisioned 8,000 inmates by 2020

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

Despite publicly committing to a “smaller, safer jail” in recent weeks, Sheriff Marlin Gusman sent architects a plan calling for 8,000 beds in his complex by 2020.

“A bed capacity of 8,000 should be planned regardless of whether it is reached in 2020 or beyond,” the document said.

The Justice Facilities Master Plan was produced in 2007 by FEMA in partnership with architectural firm PSA Dewberry, to focus on reconstruction of the jail in the aftermath of Katrina.

Gusman described the document as a “great plan” in an interview with The Lens in late September, although Gusman’s spokesman told The Lens on Thursday night that the sheriff had not commissioned or “embraced” the report, when it was produced.

Further, spokesman Malcom Ehrhardt said conclusions shouldn’t be drawn from three-year-old documents used in general planning, and that more focused planning has taken place since then.

Still, neither Gusman nor Ehrhardt would comment on whether the sheriff still projects 8,000 beds at the end of the decade.

Gusman’s office was consulted on the report’s production, and the sheriff sent a 27-page excerpt from the plan to three architects in 2007 to brief them on what would be expected from the reconstruction of the jail.

“The correctional component within the Justice Facility Planning Group, working closely with the sheriff and his staff, reviewed the actual daily population of the Parish correctional system for each quarter year from Jan. 05 until the second quarter 2007,” the report read. “This history has been invaluable as we project the number of beds required over time for the parish’s correctional system.”

Gusman told the architects that the presentation showed them what to expect to work on if they got the contract for the first phase of the work.

“The purpose of this letter and the enclosed material is to provide your team with additional information on the project scope of work; and to further define what the interview committee is expecting of your team at interview,” the sheriff wrote to the three architecture firms.

FEMA says Gusman was involved in creating the presentation but that it was just a guideline.

“The presentation was created by FEMA Public Assistance in collaboration with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and other interested stakeholders in Orleans Parish and the state of Louisiana,” said Stephanie Moffett, a spokeswoman for FEMA.

“The presentation was created as a conceptual redesign of the sheriff’s department facilities based on present and future capacity needs,” Moffett said. “This is a guideline. It’s a conceptual overview and a recommendation.”

In calling for an 8,000-bed jail by 2020, the document appears to contradict Gusman’s recent statements that he wants a “smaller, safer jail” than the 7,500 bed complex that existed before Katrina.

This page is from the sheriff's 27-page presentation sent to architects interested in designing the new jail.

Gusman released a statement last month, committing to a smaller jail in response to an advertisement in the Times Picayune placed by opponents to the sheriff’s current plans to expand the jail.

The news comes as Mayor Mitch Landrieu convenes a jail working group this afternoon, to look at how many beds the new jail should have.

The city pays Gusman $22.39 per day per prisoner, a move that opponents of a larger jail, and some members of the mayor’s working group, have suggested gives him a financial incentive to keep as many inmates in his jail as possible. Gusman responded to such criticism directly, saying he has never housed inmates to make money.

Advocates for a smaller jail are concerned about an 8,000-bed projection, almost double the 4,200 beds mentioned by Gusman in his September statement.

“I think it shows that you can’t take the sheriff at his word,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. “Because the numbers change every time he speaks, and so every number he gives is not reliable.

“It also means he cannot possibly really have any commitment to diminishing the size of the jail when he’s talking about building a facility nearly double the size of what he has now.”

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