Mayor Mitch Landrieu, seeking to reduce the number of inmates at Orleans Parish Prison, renewed his plea this week that the Louisiana Department of Corrections remove state prisoners from the “unconstitutional conditions” plaguing the city’s jail.
The mayor’s request drew a fiery response from Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who accused Landrieu of misrepresenting the facts and heading down a “path of divisiveness instead of seeking solutions.”
“Either he just doesn’t understand,” Gusman said in a statement, or Landrieu is “deliberately attempting to damage a successful partnership between the Sheriff’s Office” and the Department of Corrections.
Landrieu, who has long questioned the prudence of housing state prisoners at OPP, sent a letter Monday to Jimmy LeBlanc, the state corrections secretary, in which he described the possibility that the jail’s entire population will be transferred to other lockups around the state if Gusman cannot open a long-delayed 1,438-bed new jail building by Sept. 15.
Susan McCampbell, the corrections expert overseeing court-ordered reforms at OPP, recommended in federal court last week that all of the city’s inmates be moved out of New Orleans if the opening of the new facility is further delayed.
OPP remains beset by violence two years into the reform effort — McCampbell described conditions as “deplorable” — as evidenced by frequent inmate-on-inmate attacks.
Gusman has insisted that such problems will be remedied once the new jail opens.
In his letter to LeBlanc, Landrieu suggested that the city could take legal action against the state if his administration has to foot the bill for relocating state prisoners.
“The DOC facilities have sufficient bed capacity,” the mayor added, “and it is the state’s obligation to remove the DOC inmates from unconstitutional conditions.”
The Landrieu administration, which under state law must pay for the care of local inmates, has been locked in a long-running legal battle with Gusman over the future size of the city’s jail, and it has repeatedly questioned the sheriff’s decision to house state prisoners at a time when the city is trying to reduce OPP’s inmate population.
City leaders have said New Orleans taxpayers are subsidizing the housing of those prisoners in light of the rising costs of operating a jail subject to a federal consent decree.
“We’re just saying enough is enough,” said Andy Kopplin, Landrieu’s chief administrative officer. “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and doing the state’s job for it seems to be a perfectly easy place to stop.”
The mayor maintains that removing the approximately 350 state prisoners from OPP will bring the city within reach of being able to house its entire inmate population in the new jail without the need for an additional multimillion-dollar facility Gusman wants to build.
The City Council has authorized the use of a building known as the Temporary Detention Center to house any overflow inmates for up to 18 months after the opening of the new jail.
Gusman, however, called Landrieu’s request “a clear example of his divisiveness and shortsightedness” that, if successful, would derail an inmate re-entry program that has reduced recidivism.
Of the approximately 1,865 inmates housed at OPP, 347 are state prisoners.
About 128 of those participate in Gusman’s re-entry program; 38 serve in work-release; 18 are assigned to the jail’s kitchen; and eight work in community service.
On any given day, the sheriff said, about 60 state prisoners are awaiting transfer to the Department of Corrections. Most of the remaining 95 state prisoners are awaiting prosecution locally, Gusman said.
“DOC inmates also clean and maintain areas of the jail as well as various local government offices,” he said. “Hiring civilian staff to perform these various functions will increase costs that taxpayers will bear.”
Pam Laborde, a state corrections spokeswoman, said LeBlanc had not yet received Landrieu’s letter.
She said LeBlanc “will review it in greater detail as well as discuss it with Sheriff Gusman in the coming days.”
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