By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer
After a nearly five month delay, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is close to getting his desperately sought-after city approval to build a new jail facility – but it comes with a major catch.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Criminal Justice Working Group recommended approval this afternoon but will insist that the sheriff close down most of his other facilities. That will create a total jail capacity of around 2,500 beds, including state and federal prisoners.
That’s down significantly from the 5,800 he’s put in plans for, the 4,200 he says he really wants and a fraction of the 7,500 beds before Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA will pick up the $30 million construction bill.
The working group will meet again Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. to review a written version of its recommendation, and take community input, before the recommendation goes to Landrieu on Nov. 23, and later, to the City Council for approval.
The city of New Orleans may build mental health and addiction services on a vacant city-owned block next door to the proposed new 1,438-bed jail, between the jail and a kitchen and warehouse facility already under construction.
The jail will be designed to include medical facilities, educational facilities for GED qualifications, vocational and job training, and substance-abuse counseling facilities.
When the new beds are open, Gusman said he would then close down a 704-bed temporary tent facility, his 831-bed House of Detention, and the 408-bed Conchetta facility off Tulane Avenue.
Gusman has already said he would close down the 500-bed temporary facility he’s now buliding by 2013, when the new facility is set to open.
Gusman also said he may “drastically scale back” the 841-bed Orleans Parish Prison, too, although it will need to remain in some fashion, as a holding facility behind the Criminal District Court building.
His 316-bed Templeman V complex, which exclusively houses federal prisoners, is not part of the deal.
The meeting began with a new set of inmate bed simulations by James Austin, a criminal-justice consultant working with the National Institute of Justice. The group asked Austin to model more policy changes at a meeting on Tuesday.
Austin estimated a total of 1,485 city beds in the new jail by 2020, taking into account five policy changes: pre-trial services, reducing the number of state inmates, increased use of police summonses instead of jailing, greater efficiency in the processing of judicial dockets, and reduction in the stay of probation violators.
Those policy changes will all be part of the working group’s jail size recommendation next week.
The Vera Institute of Justice estimated that the number of beds could be reduced to 1,403, but Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the numbers were pretty close.
Austin recommended proceeding with Gusman’s planned new 1,438-bed facility, but incorporating medical facilities and mental health care into the plan so that it ends up being the only jail in Gusman’s jail complex by 2020.
Landrieu’s working group will also continue to meet over the coming months to discuss unresolved issues such as mental health issues, substance abuse, racial disparities, work release plans, the number of state prisoners in the jail, bond schedules, and will need to approve any increase in the total number of beds in the future, the group agreed.