The Tents, part of the Orleans Parish Prison complex, have been emptied as Isaac apporaches. Photo by Tom Gogola

As Tropical Storm Isaac churns up the Gulf of Mexico, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said today that he shipped nearly half the prisoners held at Orleans Parish Prison to state facilities around Louisiana.

In a statement, Gusman said he had moved 1,037 prisoners overnight from FEMA-built jails built in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He has completely emptied two jails: the Temporary Jail and the Temporary Detention Center, more commonly known as the “Tents.”

“Our objective was to complete the transfer in the best interest of inmate safety and the public prior to increased traffic on our highways,” Gusman said.

Gusman also released 80 municipal inmates being held on non-violent charges, in keeping with permission from the judges from various courts. Judges gave Gusman the discretion to release those prisoners once the mayor declares a state of emergency, said Gusman’s spokesman, Marc Ehrhardt. Mayor Mitch Landrieu made that declaration Sunday.

Gusman said the Intake and Processing Center at Orleans Parish Prison will refusing to accept new municipal-charge bookings, except for those arrested on outstanding domestic violence warrants or on weapons charges.

That order will be enforced until further notice from Criminal District Court and Municipal Court. The New Orleans Police Department will be issuing summonses on low-level municipal charges, Ehrhardt said. He stressed that those arrested on serious crimes would be arrested and booked into the system.

The mass departure of inmates leaves the sprawling jail complex with a population of 1,329, Gusman said.

He gave no indication of when the 1,037 prisoners might be coming back to Orleans Parish Prison. That decision is in Isaac’s hands.

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...