Facing critical staffing shortages, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office on Friday began transferring a second wave of inmates to a jail in northeastern Louisiana, seeking to stem the rampant jailhouse attacks that have continued even after Sheriff Marlin Gusman opened a new $150 million jail last year.
The move comes about a week after a court-appointed expert warned Gusman that the level of violence at the new lockup had become “unacceptable” and called for “significant improvements” in leadership and accountability within the Sheriff’s Office.
The expert, Susan McCampbell, who is monitoring a sweeping reform effort at the jail, determined the facility is dangerously understaffed and that deputies “are not always present” in housing tiers in which they are supposed to be supervising inmates.
In response, Gusman announced Friday he is relocating 140 “low- to medium-security” detainees to East Carroll Parish, near the Arkansas border, a decision that seemed certain to further infuriate defense attorneys and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which must foot the bill for jail operations.
Gusman, pointing to a lack of beds in the new jail, transferred more than 200 pre-trial inmates to East Carroll and Franklin parishes last year, a move city officials are trying to have reversed in federal court.
At the same time, the Sheriff’s Office intends to move all inmates who had been housed at the 300-bed Temporary Detention Center into the new 1,438-bed jail on Perdido Street.
James Williams, an attorney for Gusman, said in a news release that the transfer would allow the Sheriff’s Office “to shift three dozen trained deputies into the new jail building, increasing staffing levels immediately.” The Sheriff’s Office promised to increase manpower “by 40 percent at key times” with “new scheduling strategies.”
The sheriff also pointed a finger at the Landrieu administration, accusing city leaders of refusing to approve pay raises for deputies and depriving them of “a living wage.” Williams asserted that “the No. 1 reason trained deputies leave the OPSO is pay.”
But McCampbell, in her Jan. 14 letter to the sheriff, emphasized that salary levels represent only part of the reason the Sheriff’s Office has struggled to recruit new deputies. The Sheriff’s Office hired 179 new deputies in 2015 but finished the year with a net gain of only 34 employees because of incessant turnover.
McCampbell wrote that “there must be significant improvements in the quality of the workplace, supervision, accountability and leadership before hiring will improve and the turnover will slow down.”
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk is expected to hear testimony Feb. 1 on the city’s request that Gusman be blocked from housing inmates in northeastern Louisiana, hours away from their families and defense attorneys.
The Landrieu administration has asked Gusman repeatedly to return several hundred state prisoners to the Department of Corrections. Gusman has refused, saying several dozen of them participate in a re-entry program that the sheriff insists has reduced recidivism in New Orleans.
Sarah McLaughlin, a Landrieu spokeswoman, said Friday that the administration supports removing state prisoners from the jail.
“Local Orleans Parish pre-trial detainees, however, should remain in New Orleans,” she said. “Transferring local inmates has already and will continue to place undue burden on our criminal justice system.”
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