New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is siding firmly with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council in their efforts to block Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plans to build another new $85 million facility to house inmates with special needs.
The city and the Sheriff’s Office should be working to reduce the inmate population rather than making plans to add on to the yet-to-open $145 million new main jail, and they should comply with the conclusions of a working group that called for limiting the jail as a whole to 1,438 beds, according to a letter Quatrevaux sent to both sides Monday.
“The dangerous and deplorable conditions in the current jail facilities persist as New Orleans awaits the opening of the new jail, and it is essential that the (new) building provide safe, secure and constitutional conditions of confinement,” Quatrevaux said. “But it should also be in compliance with the law, a law that reflects a deliberate policy decision reached through an open and transparent legislative process.”
The Sheriff’s Office and the city have been locked in a struggle over the size of the new jail and the best way to care for inmates with medical or other special needs — a requirement of bringing Orleans Parish Prison in line with constitutional requirements and satisfying the terms of a federal consent decree.
Gusman has argued for the construction of another new facility to house inmates with special needs, but city officials have balked, saying the top floor of the 1,438-bed new building should be retrofitted to house those populations.
With rising costs for housing inmates, which have gone from $47 to $110 per person per day since 2011, Quatrevaux said that even aside from the social costs of incarcerating large numbers of residents, the financial cost of an expanded jail would be “simply unsustainable.”
The fight came to a head recently when the city issued a stop-work order on the jail’s construction, saying that because it cannot accommodate all inmates, it is in violation of the ordinance that allowed its construction.
The City Council is set to discuss the issue at a special meeting of its Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday. That will come a day before Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese, who temporarily set aside the stop-work order, hears testimony on the issue.
In his letter, Quatrevaux supported the stop-work order, saying the city “took the same legal action it would take with any builder in response to ongoing construction not in compliance with a conditional use ordinance.”
He also highlighted some of the same issues city officials have focused on in their criticisms of the Sheriff’s Office, noting that Gusman has not turned over information and documents about costs.
On the other side, activists with the group Justice and Beyond pushed the city to drop its stop-work order, arguing that Landrieu administration officials had “sufficient opportunity during the planning and inspection process” to “insert themselves and stop construction.”
Now, as work nears completion, further delays would serve only to prevent the Sheriff’s Office from recouping money from its contractors for delays that already have occurred in the process, according to a letter to the administration from Justice and Beyond Co-Moderator Pat Bryant.
While his letter largely agreed with the city’s position concerning the jail, Quatrevaux also stressed the need for reconciliation.
“I call on the mayor and sheriff to cooperate, in good faith and expeditiously, to ensure that the new jail opens in compliance with local law and as soon as possible,” Quatrevaux said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.