By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer
A working group established by Mayor Mitch Landrieu did not meet its obligation to make a recommendation about the size of the city’s jail by Nov. 22.
Nevertheless, Landrieu used the group’s work as a basis for his recommendation to the City Council that it give “immediate approval” to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s request for a zoning permit.
The matter has been pending before the council since July, when the council said it would await the group’s recommendation. The council meets Thursday, but the matter is not likely to be heard until the Jan. 6 meeting at the soonest.
Landrieu established the group by executive order in September, charging it to “make final recommendations to the Mayor regarding the optimal size of the prison” and “to provide its written recommendation and report no later than November 22nd, 2010.”
But the group has been stymied by the complexity of its task, and instead, has only recommended that council grant a permit for Gusman to build a new 1,438-bed jail facility, just part of the new jail complex envisioned by Gusman when he submitted a planning request to the city in April.
The group won’t meet its obligation to recommend a total number of beds for the entire jail for at least three more months, telling Landrieu it still needs to address several unresolved issues.
The unresolved issues listed include whether there “is a need for additional capacity to house local inmates.”
The group even voted on a resolution on Nov. 23, putting the determination of a final number of beds in the future tense:
… the determination of an optimal size for a new Orleans Parish Prison complex will be dependent on a variety of data that must be analyzed and an understanding of how different policies and practices which, if implemented, could influence the number of prisoners housed in Orleans Parish Prison and the length of their incarceration;
Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said policies still being studied by the group could affect the final jail size.
“The working group will continue to make recommendations on policies and, if necessary, additional size,” Berni said. “For now, the recommendation is 1,438 beds.”
Berni denied that the group, led by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, missed its deadline for a final bed number.
Berni suggested that the obligations to “make final recommendations to the Mayor regarding the optimal size of the prison” and “to provide its written recommendation and report no later than November 22nd, 2010” were not related, because they were in separate points in Landrieu’s executive order.
Landrieu told The Lens Friday that the size of the jail is a “moving target,” after Gusman told a crowd in eastern New Orleans he thinks he’ll need another 1,800 beds once the group is done.
The mayor’s spokesman said Landrieu “wrote the executive order.”
So, does that mean he’s free to change it whenever he likes?
“I just think we can agree to disagree on the interpretation of the executive order,” Berni said. “We stick by the work still to be done by the committee.”