The co-chairwomen of the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee on Monday declined to comment on a new jail under consideration by the Landrieu administration and Sheriff Marlin Gusman that would add up to 650 beds to the Orleans Parish Prison complex.

The Lens asked councilwomen  Susan Guidry and Jackie Clarkson  about their stance on the proposed facility. Along with all their colleagues, the two voted last year to limit the jail size to 1,438 inmates, though the council’s vote left open the possibility of future action to make changes.

The new jail would be built on a city-owned lot between two facilities under construction. Phase I is a new kitchen and warehouse facility nearing completion; Phase II is the 1,438-inmate facility, which is in the early phases of construction.

The “Phase III Concept Plan,” shows bridges connecting the three buildings.

According to diagrams and correspondence between city officials and Gusman, the new facility would house mental-health inmates; inmates requiring medical care; and re-entry beds for returning state prisoners.

The city law allowing the building of the 1,438-bed facility said it had to be designed to accommodate any type of prisoner – including re-entry program participants and inmates in need of non-acute mental-health care.

But there may not be enough room at a facility that size..

Today, there are approximately 2,600 people locked up in the buildings comprising the jail complex under Gusman’s control.

He has said that he has 2,691 beds available on any given day.

Once the new jail is complete, the sheriff would have 1,438 beds to work with, unless the city builds this new facility or keeps one or more of the other old buildings operational.

But under the law that permitted the new jail, almost all other city jail buildings have to be decommissioned or demolished once Phase II opens. The sheriff would have 18 months to decommission the Temporary Detention Center, a recently opened 400-bed facility.

At an April 24 meeting of the faith-based Micah Project, a Guidry representative made a public pledge to limit the total number jail beds to the 1,438.

Guidry sits on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Criminal Justice Working Group, which is supposed to determine the proper size of the jail.

The panel was supposed to offer a recommendation by November 2010 on the final number of beds the city will need to effectively and humanely deal with its prisoners, though it has yet to do so. The group last met in October and reported that the final number of beds could be anywhere between 1,750 and 3,100.

A city spokesman said the working group has not scheduled its next meeting.

Guidry Chief of Staff Deborah Langhoff said the councilwoman might be prepared to comment on Tuesday.

Clarkson offered an across-the-board “no comment” about the new jail proposal through spokeswoman Susan Baxter.

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...