Criminal Justice

Gusman closes House of Detention

Surrounded by deputies, Orleans Parish Sherriff Marlin Gusman announced today that he is closing the Orleans Parish Prison House of Detention facility on Perdido Street.

He said the move is based in part on “the mounting criticisms” and the “inspections by the federal people.”

Last week, U.S. Marshals removed the 20 prisoners serving federal time at the Orleans Parish Prison, citing unacceptable conditions.

The high-rise House of Detention is one of seven facilities used to house prisoners in the prison complex. As of 7 a.m. today, there were 2,848 inmates in the parish complex, with 22 percent in the House of Detention. By the end of the week, that total will likely be reduced by at least 400.

Gusman said the 628 inmates now housed at the House of Detention are being moved to other facilities either in Orleans Parish Prison or elsewhere, beginning today. Most have been convicted of local charges. To make room for those prisoners, 400 convicts doing state time in the Orleans Parish Prison complex will be moved elsewhere in Louisiana.

Gusman would not identify those other prisons, citing security concerns. State Corrections Department officials are making plans to move those prisoners, spokeswoman Pam Laborde said.

But that doesn’t mean all state inmates are being moved. About 300 inmates serving state time will stay put in New Orleans’ detainee facilities, Gusman said.

Gusman also said that about 100 unsentenced prisoners awaiting state charges could be transferred to other facilities outside of New Orleans.

Other, special populations of inmates at the House of Detention, he said, will be shifted to other jail facilities within the Orleans Parish Prison. Those populations include youthful offenders, maximum-security prisoners, and those serving time with mental-health issues.

Gusman said closing the House of Detention was always part of his master plan for a smaller, leaner prison footprint. He said the completion of a temporary prison led to the House of Detention’s closing.

“The House of Detention is part of the city’s past,” said Gusman. “It has no role” in New Orleans’ future.

The sheriff has been dealing with a barrage of criticism over conditions at the jails under his watch. Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class-action suit against Gusman and numerous officials working in the Orleans Parish Prison. The suit charges a persistent culture of violence and sexual abuse has gone unchecked under Gusman’s watch.

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center offered guarded praise for the Sheriff, who should be “commended for finally recognizing the intolerable and inhumane conditions at OPP” said attorney Katie Schwartzmann. But, she added, “resolving the crisis at OPP will require more than moving people from one jail to another.”

Gusman was elected Sheriff in 2004. He has consistently blamed Hurricane Katrina for a lot of the problems now bedeviling the jails, a meme he repeated Tuesday. “All of our facilities were destroyed” by the 2005 hurricane, he said.

In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department issued a report on Orleans Parish Prison facilities that found conditions to be unconstitutional.

Justice Department officials visited the prison last week, just days before the department issued a report highly critical of a rash of alleged sexual assaults at the jail.

Gusman has indicated a willingness to enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with federal officials, though his critics want the Justice Department to push for a more severe, court-enforced consent decree.

“We remain concerned with the conditions of confinement at the Orleans Parish Prison, Justice Department representative Xochitl Hinojosa wrote to The Lens on April 5.

Asked for the state’s position on a federal consent decree or a memorandum of understanding, Laborde deferred: “We’re not going to weigh in on that.”

At the afternoon press conference, a defiant Gusman rejected the latest Department of Justice report, released yesterday, that rated prisons around the country based on their ability to prevent sexual violence.

Gusman said it did not include statements from his office that, he said, undermined the veracity of the department’s accusations.

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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.

  • Gusman was elected Sheriff in 2004.
    When can we unelect him?

  • OPSODeputy

    November 2013 unless he gets indicted by the feds or the state before then. All that fema money and the jails are still a sh*t hole. More retired part time chiefs and top brass than full time brass. and lets not forget all the former NOPD officers and low level supervisors that NEW CHIEF DEPUTY Ursin (Former NOPD with a fake college degree) making top dollar. I’ll bet when the layoffs start it won’t be them!!!!! it will be the deputies that do the work!!!!!

  • grape koolaid & popcorn

    It’s funny how there plan backfired on them “we gonna cry broke & play like we can’t hire anymore people” now you have no inmates & soon u gonna have to get rid of your deputies who u just promised a raise too smh.let the layoffs begin.

  • nola anarcha

    Gusman is the biggest Mafia-esque crime boss in New Orleans.

    He should be under indictment!

    and to the deputies: if you want to protect yourselves from this shark who would throw you overboard to save himself in a hot minute, you have to form a union and fight for better treatment for both yourselves and the inmates. He is exploiting everyone, and the more he can get away with toward one group, the easier it makes it to get away with screwing over the other group.

  • Steve

    I’m certain that The Lens’ incessant reporting over the past several months had a role to play in brining attention to the jail conditions and the eventual closing of the House of Detention. Nice job.

  • A26

    I have never seen an office that mimics a three ring circus like Gusman’s office. Ever see a Sheriff’s Dept with two different uniforms? One being a Civil Sheriff with the former Sheriff’s name still on it and the other Criminal. Wow. Ever see a deputy in shorts and his own vehicle serve a subpoena? What about a Sheriff that tells his deputies that they have to pay for the gas in their personal car in which they use to serve subpoenas ( they hope to get reimbursed )? What about an office that hires ex-NOPD whom are or have been under indictment? I think Billy Short is rolling over in his grave ( god rest his soul ). Where is Foti when you need him? Gusman has chiefs on the Civil side who don’t know their @22 from a whole in the wall and Chiefs on the Criminal side whose biggest accomplishments in life were working for NOPD and dodging a federal indictment. Ever heard of a deputy needing a Chief to sign a paper ok’ing him to work a detail? How much time are you wasting there? I’m sure thats being real productive. What do you think happens to deputies that have worked there for years and years and get passed up on promotions then you promote a nobody ex-cop to a chief? If I’m not mistaken Danny Lombard probably knows the most about that office know that Short has passed on. I really do feel for the deputies of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Use the department for what it is… A stepping stone! Get POST and get out. Dropouts at Taco Bell make more then you all, and that should bother you.

  • Maybe the Chief Deputy that falsely claimed he had a doctoral degree and his NOPD buddies will get indicted and invite Gusman to the party!!!!!

    A deputy can dream can’t she!!!!

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