The administrator who assumed control of the New Orleans jail this fall has been given an additional month to draft a long-term plan for housing pretrial inmates who suffer from mental health issues.
Gary Maynard, who took the reins of the troubled lockup in October, told U.S. District Judge Lance Africk he needs 30 more days to consider input from "numerous stakeholders" and to acquire up-to-date information on Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations and how they might affect a potential renovation of the city's new jail, known as the Orleans Justice Center.
His plan had been due Thursday, but Africk extended the deadline until Jan. 3.
Maynard has been working with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to develop a plan for how the city will accommodate inmates with medical and mental health needs.
Such treatment, despite federally monitored reforms, has been sorely lacking at the jail, in large part because the $145 million facility was not designed to house so-called special populations of inmates, who must be separated from the general population.
"Although medical and psychiatric patients are clustered on general population housing units, there is no provision for housing patients with special needs, both medical and psychiatric, in the OJC," a team of court-appointed corrections experts wrote in a recent report to Africk.
Pretrial inmates who suffer from severe mental illness are being housed at a renovated state prison facility in St. Gabriel — an expensive arrangement that keeps those detainees more than an hour's journey from their families and defense attorneys. Hundreds of other inmates are awaiting trial even farther away, in northeastern Louisiana, because the New Orleans jail remains too understaffed to operate at full capacity.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman for years has been pushing to build a new facility, known as "Phase III," that would be designed to house mentally ill inmates. He contends the building also is needed to provide additional bed space for the city's inmate population, which remains far above the national average for a city of its size.
The Landrieu administration has opposed that proposal, saying it prefers to reduce the city's inmate population and spend federal hurricane recovery dollars on other projects.
A number of inmate advocates, including the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, have recommended renovating one floor of the year-old jail so that it could accommodate inmates with medical and mental health needs.
The coalition held a vigil near the Orleans Justice Center from Wednesday night to Thursday morning seeking to draw attention to what the organization describes as mounting opposition to jail expansion in New Orleans.
"We are camping out to urge our public officials to do the right thing," Chloe Sigal, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers, said in a statement. "While this decision is happening behind closed doors, we are here in the open to tell them: New Orleans does not need more jail beds."
The recommendation from Maynard, the Sheriff's Office and city officials also is expected to address the housing of juveniles, an increasingly hot-button issue in New Orleans.
Maynard was appointed to serve as the jail's "independent compliance director" following a court proceeding this year that nearly resulted in the jail's being placed in federal receivership.
To avoid such a takeover, Gusman agreed to cede control of the facility to Maynard, who is responsible for a wide array of duties, including determining the Sheriff's Office's budget and hiring and firing deputies. Maynard reports only to Africk.
The U.S. Justice Department and the MacArthur Justice Center, a civil rights law firm representing the city's inmates, had asked Africk earlier to strip Gusman of control over the jail, citing a series of court-ordered reforms that have languished under his leadership.
Those reform efforts, outlined in a federal consent decree, resulted from a class-action lawsuit the city's inmates filed over the inhumane conditions at the now-shuttered Orleans Parish Prison.