Sheriff Marlin Gusman has tapped a longtime jail administrator in Chicago to lead the troubled Orleans Parish Prison, looking outside the Sheriff’s Office for a critical hire after his previous chief corrections deputy left the job on sour terms.
Carmen DeSadier, a veteran of the Cook County Department of Corrections, was selected from a half-dozen applicants in what Gusman described as a nationwide search. She begins her new job May 4.
DeSadier, 55, will be tasked with steering the Sheriff’s Office into compliance with a court-ordered plan to reform the jail. Implementing the federally monitored agreement has been hobbled, in many respects, by a lack of staffing and inadequate funding.
For months, Gusman has been locked in a bitter dispute with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration — which under state law must pay for inmates’ care — over how much money is needed to satisfy the sweeping terms of the federal consent decree.
The decree, which resulted from a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates, calls for an overhaul of Sheriff’s Office policies and a series of measures aimed at reducing jailhouse violence. Filling DeSadier’s position of chief of corrections is mandated by the decree.
DeSadier faces a host of challenges as the Sheriff’s Office not only seeks to implement required reforms but also prepares to open a new $145 million jail.
DeSadier’s predecessor, Michael Tidwell, had been viewed as an experienced voice of reason, having run jails in several other cities. But he grew increasingly frustrated working under Gusman, and several sources said he felt he lacked the autonomy needed to bring about meaningful change in the jail’s culture. He resigned in December to take a better-paying corrections job in Escambia County, Florida.
Alluding to the intransigence among Sheriff’s Office leadership, Susan McCampbell, the court-appointed expert monitoring the jail reform, told a federal judge last year that “people need to get out of the way of doing the job that needs to be done.”
Tidwell, in his resignation letter, said he believed his departure would afford Gusman the opportunity to “hire someone more in tune with (his) management style and agency vision.”
Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the agency received applications from California and Pennsylvania but none from within the Sheriff’s Office. In a news release announcing DeSadier’s hiring, Gusman said he is looking forward to working with her as the Sheriff’s Office transitions into the new 1,438-bed jail, a facility the sheriff has described as a game-changer.
Its projected opening has been repeatedly delayed. Gusman now maintains that inmates may move into the new jail in June, but many observers, including U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, the jurist overseeing the jail litigation, see that timetable as overly optimistic.
“Chief DeSadier brings more than 30 years of security and supervisory experience at a large jail that will serve us well,” Gusman said.
He noted that DeSadier has experience in overseeing compliance with a federal consent decree at the jail in Chicago, an agreement with the Justice Department that also has been overseen by McCampbell.
Her “oversight role included developing strategies for maintaining security- and control-related policies, procedures and practices,” Gusman’s office said in its news release. “She maintained a staffing plan, oversaw the creation of a centralized classification system and negotiated an agreement with an inmate health services provider.”
The Cook County Jail has seen a culture of violence similar to New Orleans. Last year, according to The Chicago Tribune, a national expert on jail operations said the Cook County Jail ranked among the most violent in the country.
McCampbell last year determined the Chicago jail had reached “substantial compliance” with all 77 categories in that jail’s 2010 consent decree, the newspaper reported, but a lawsuit brought by Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center claimed violent conditions persisted within the jail’s maximum-security divisions.
DeSadier began her career as a corrections officer in Cook County in 1982, ascending the ranks to first assistant executive director. According to her LinkedIn profile, she previously served as a lieutenant, captain, chief of operations and superintendent, among other positions.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, she managed a $250 million budget and had “oversight responsibility for the daily operations of the jail complex with an average daily inmate population of 9,500.”
Her career has not been free of controversy. The Chicago Tribune reported that she was involved in “an apparent mass beating of inmates” at the jail in 1993 after an inmate referred to her as “Olive Oyl.”
Citing internal reports, the newspaper reported DeSadier, then a sergeant, left the wing and returned “with a large group of correctional officers.” One lieutenant began “hitting people with his fists,” the report said, adding that five guards allegedly joined the fracas.
The newspaper said no jail employees were disciplined in the incident.
DeSadier did not return a call late Tuesday seeking comment on her hiring.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.