Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s decision to move 250 Orleans Parish pre-trial inmates to jails in Franklin and East Carroll parishes has caused headaches for many local defense attorneys, some of whom now have clients housed closer to Memphis, Tennessee, than to New Orleans.
And while the sheriff insists there aren’t enough beds for those inmates in the new $150 million jail that opened last week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has voiced concern about the cost of the long-distance arrangement, especially in light of Gusman’s refusal to return several hundred state prisoners to the Department of Corrections.
But one element of the transfer that has received little attention is whether the conditions at the lockups in northeastern Louisiana comply with the terms of a federal consent decree that outlines a host of requirements — the result of a class-action lawsuit — for how the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office treats and houses inmates, even if they’re on loan to other parishes.
New questions surfaced Wednesday when city officials revealed that not even the team of court-appointed corrections experts monitoring the New Orleans jail reforms visited the facilities in Franklin and East Carroll before the local inmates were bused there earlier this month.
City officials, who under state law must pay for the care of local inmates, have said they were in the dark about the transfer and also weren’t consulted about the rate — $30 a day for each inmate — Gusman agreed to pay those parishes.
Susan McCampbell, the lead monitor in the jail litigation, told City Attorney Sharonda Williams in a letter dated Sept. 12 that her team had provided a “list of requirements” to the Sheriff’s Office last month regarding “the conditions of confinement of jails where OPSO inmates might be held.”
But even though McCampbell had been adamant in recent weeks that inmates should be removed from the harsh conditions they faced in the recently shuttered Orleans Parish Prison, she acknowledged that she and her team did not journey to northeastern Louisiana to ensure conditions in the jails there would be in keeping with the consent decree.
Gusman’s office “indicated they would convey our conditions to jails who agreed to hold inmates,” McCampbell wrote. “We have not seen any written agreement regarding these requirements between OPSO and the receiving jails.”
The monitoring team is not permitted under the terms of the consent decree to speak with the news media, and it’s not clear whether the experts have visited the jails in Franklin and East Carroll since Sept. 12. McCampbell noted in her letter that her team’s “attention will be to this matter going forward.”
A spokeswoman for Gusman did not respond to a request for comment.
The sheriff also declined to address the inmate transfers at a meeting Wednesday of the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, where city officials assailed the move as financially irresponsible and cloaked in secrecy. Gusman refused to attend the meeting.
“The sheriff has caused massive chaos and disruption to the city’s criminal justice system, causing detainees to miss court dates, interfering with (the ability of) public defenders and other lawyers to meet with their clients and interfering with (the ability of) the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute cases timely,” said Andy Kopplin, Landrieu’s chief administrative officer. “The sheriff made the wrong choice.”
Attorneys for the MacArthur Justice Center and the U.S. Justice Department, who represent the city’s inmates in the class-action lawsuit that led to the consent decree, said last week that they made several attempts to gather information about the transfers.
In a court filing, the attorneys said they also sent a letter “outlining critical policies that they believed should be affirmed by any receiving jurisdiction, to ensure OPSO was not moving prisoners from one unconstitutional jail to another.”
They said they “have not received any assurance that the receiving facilities have structures in place to comply with the terms of the (consent decree),” adding that there is a “significant concern that people who should not be housed together are being commingled” in those facilities.
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