Sheriff Marlin Gusman has hit back at remarks made Thursday by a member of the mayor’s new advisory group on plans for Gusman’s new jail.

Former Chief Judge of Criminal District Court Calvin Johnson told The Lens yesterday that jails have been used as “an economic development tool in Louisiana over the last 30 years,” and that “local sheriffs have been pleased with this because they get paid by the Department of Corrections to keep inmates in their jails.”

Johnson said he hopes the new group will challenge Gusman’s plan to expand the jail from its current 3,500 beds to at least 4,200 beds under his latest plan.

“The remarks attributed to former Judge Johnson are both irresponsible and untrue,” Gusman said in a written statement issued through a representative Thursday night. “As sheriff, I have a record of supporting a smaller, more secure jail complex and the introduction of new programs that can reduce the jail population and decrease recidivism among offenders.

“I have never housed arrestees ‘to make money’ or become powerful,” Gusman continued. “In fact, as recently as Sept. 19, 2010, The Times-Picayune reported ‘…all sides agree that the City pays the Sheriff far too little for his staff to properly care for the people in his charge.’”

Gusman said state inmates now comprise less 26 percent of his jail population of 3,200, compared to almost 50 percent of the population under his predecessor,  Sheriff Charles Foti.

“My only purpose in housing inmates is to secure the safety of our city,” he wrote. “Virtually all inmates are presented to me by the New Orleans Police Department, pursuant to arrests by the police department – NOT pursuant to arrests by my department.

“The population of Orleans Parish is totally irrelevant to a decision regarding bed space,” he continued. “The ‘reality’ which must guide us in determining the size of our jail system is the history of arrests in our city. I welcome the intervention of any responsible pre-trial program designed to release arrested persons, which is also consistent with public safety.”