Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s new jail will not open until mid-August at the earliest, authorities said Monday, citing complications with an electronic security system that controls everything from cell doors to videoconferencing.
The $145 million lockup, once slated to open last year, more recently had been scheduled to be completed this month, but that timetable has been postponed again.
The jail’s opening has been delayed at least a half-dozen times, preventing Orleans Parish Prison inmates from moving out of a facility whose conditions have been deemed unconstitutional.
Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Monday that deputies have encountered new problems with the security system that must be ironed out before the 1,438-bed jail can safely accept inmates.
“The security electronics contractor is working out bugs in the system,” he said. “They advise us that those issues will be resolved in time to bring the facility online in mid-August.”
“Sheriff Gusman is committed to safely operating the jail,” Stelly added, “and he is committed to only opening the facility when it’s safe to do so.”
Gusman has signed an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that calls for a wide array of jail reforms, many of which he says will be more readily implemented at the new facility. In the meantime, most of the provisions of the so-called consent decree remain unfulfilled, and inmates continue to live in dangerous conditions.
Jailhouse violence remains commonplace despite the federal supervision.
“Every time (the new jail’s opening) is pushed back, that means those folks have to stay in those unconstitutional and unsafe conditions,” said Norris Henderson, founder and executive director of Voice of the Ex-Offender. “There’s no consequences, so (Gusman) can continue to stall and stall and stall.”
The most recent delay had been widely expected. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, the jurist overseeing the jail reforms, told Gusman’s lawyers during a court hearing in March that he would be “pleasantly surprised” if the new jail actually opened in June.
The judge noted that the Sheriff’s Office was still seeking a new chief corrections deputy at the time and was struggling to hire enough deputies to safely staff the new facility, a challenge that continues today.
“Obviously, we need to get into a new building as soon as we can, but consistent with safety issues and training issues,” Africk said. “We’re not just going to run into the jail just to say we’ve opened the jail.”
The delay comes as Gusman continues to clash with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration over the costs of implementing the jail reforms. The city is required to pay for the care of inmates, but Landrieu’s administration has repeatedly accused the sheriff of overspending and recently has called for a fuller accounting of how Gusman is allocating taxpayer dollars.
The Sheriff’s Office already has spent most of the $28.5 million budget allocation it received from the city for this year, though that figure represented only a fraction of the funding Gusman had requested from the city.
Andy Kopplin, Landrieu’s chief administrative officer, said Gusman has asked the city to advance him additional dollars.
“He’s going to be about to exhaust his funding by the end of June,” Kopplin said. “We’ve asked the City Council to appropriate more. But, more importantly, we’ve asked the sheriff to give us a budget and explain all of his expenditures, all of his sources of revenues and the efforts he’s making to control costs.”
Gusman’s attorneys have maintained they’ve made the financial records of the Sheriff’s Office available to the city. They also contend the city has shirked its duty to pay for a constitutional jail.
The dispute over funding was underscored recently when the city objected to Gusman’s award of an $83 million contract to a Tennessee company to provide medical and mental health care for inmates at OPP. Landrieu’s attorneys asked that the five-year deal with Correct Care Solutions be declared null and void, but Africk denied that motion, saying the city had failed to offer a viable alternative.