By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer
Sheriff Marlin Gusman said Tuesday that his 400 new temporary jail beds will add to the total number of inmates in his custody, despite what he told The Lens and Fox8 News last month.
Gusman started work on the 400 new temporary jail beds even before the city’s Criminal Justice Working Group – established in September by Mayor Mitch Landrieu – held its first official meeting Friday.
Gusman told The Lens and our partners at Fox8 News in September that he planned to move prisoners from his 288-bed South White Street facility to fill the temporary buildings, and that the new temporary facilities would not result in any increase in the total number of beds in his jail, which currently has capacity for 3,552 prisoners.
But that’s at odds with a letter Gusman sent to the State Bond Commission in March, asking for a $6 million loan for jail operations. Gusman wrote that he would be able to pay off the $6 million loan using revenue from the additional beds.
“The 2010 budget is based on inmates increasing from approximately 3,500 to 3,900,” read Gusman’s application to the Bond Commission. “Increased inmates will be possible due to the expected opening of an additional temporary facility.”
“I think you’re getting too caught up with the numbers. These are projections,” Gusman said this afternoon, when asked about the apparent discrepancy.
Gusman denied any inconsistency between saying in September that the jail population wouldn’t increase because of the temporary facilities, and now saying that the temporary jail beds will increase the population.
“I don’t think there is any discrepancy,” Gusman said. “Those 400 beds are part of our bridge to permanent institutions.”
At a meeting of the mayor’s jail working group this afternoon, Gusman faced questions from City Council member Susan Guidry about when he would close other facilities.
“You’re building right now a 400 bed facility,” Guidry said. “What is going to be closed down?”
Gusman responded by saying he would have to close down more than 400 beds to make his new plan for the jail a reality, and projected a total of 3,500 beds by 2012.
In the meantime, however, it is possible that the number of available jail beds will rise, Gusman said in an interview after the meeting.
Guidry is not concerned about a short-term rise in beds as a result of the temporary facility, however.
“I think we have to respect the process here,” Guidry said. “And at the same time we’ve got to respect the sheriff moving forward with his plan, that he’s got a right to move forward on.”
A criminal justice expert told the working group on Friday that the number of people arrested in New Orleans is unlikely to increase, and that crime rates and bookings are generally dropping in New Orleans. One criminal justice reform advocate says the sheriff’s shifting bed numbers can’t be trusted.
“It’s a problem when the public can’t understand what the sheriff is trying to do and when the sheriff’s statements don’t seem to be consistent from one to the next,” said Marjorie Esman with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. “It shows again that every time the sheriff puts out a number, there’s another number behind it.
“No number that we’ve ever seen from him is consistent with anything else he has said,” Esman said. “Every number is different and nobody can seem to get him to commit to one number, stick to that number, and explain it in a way that makes sense for anything other than a revenue standpoint.”