Criminal Justice
 

Despite reservations, Gusman wants council to consider ordinance to let him build new jail

By Steve Beatty, The Lens staff writer |

Despite being opposed to some requirements that could be imposed on him, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said Friday that he wants the City Council to vote next week on whether to grant him a building permit for a new 1,438-bed jail.

Gusman sent a point-by-point critique of the necessary ordinance now before the council, and he clarified at a meeting Friday that many of his concerns have to do with conditions put on him by the City Planning Commission, not the work of the mayor’s jail advisory committee. That group, which includes Gusman, met Friday.

Councilwoman Stacy Head authored the ordinance at the behest of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. She’s also a member of the working group on the jail, and she said Friday that she agreed with some of Gusman’s complaints and that many can be worked out before the council’s vote.

One member of the working group, Loyola professor Michael Cowen, suggested that they ask the council to delay a decision until everything was settled, though there was no consensus on the matter and no one acted on his suggestion.

Gusman didn’t say why he waited until now to voice his concerns over many of the requirements in the ordinance. The Planning Commission made its recommendations to the council in July.

City Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, chairman of the group, admitted that he hadn’t read the Planning Commission’s conditions and wasn’t concerned about them because he assumed everyone had agreed to them last summer.

Kopplin made it clear that the group was sticking to its advice to the mayor and the council, which largely was included in the ordinance.

“This group has voted twice to make a recommendation … based on data and evidence, to greenlight the construction” of the 1,438 bed facility.

But he said that’s not the final number. He said the working group would continue to meet to determine whether more space will be needed. He said the range of beds to have in a new jail complex is narrowing, and he referred to 1,438 figure as a minimum.

Gusman said the evidence and analysis done by the working group’s national expert doesn’t project a jail population as low as 1,400 beds until several years from now, and in his estimation, more space is needed now.

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