Louisiana Record

Monday, November 11, 2019

City of New Orleans joins legal fight to take control of Orleans Parish Prison

By Brent Zell | May 18, 2016

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NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans on Monday filed a reply memorandum in Jones v. Gusman, supporting calls for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to be stripped of his power over the Orleans Parish Prison. 

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which is representing inmates at the prison in the case, joined with the Department of Justice (DOJ) late last month in asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to take away Gusman’s power over the facility.

The Justice Center and the DOJ stated in their motion that they believe conditions have not improved at the prison since it went under federal oversight in 2013. The Justice Center’s website says the inmates have been subjected to an “epidemic of violence” because of unsafe conditions that Gusman has not improved.

“Although there is no question that receivership is an extraordinary remedy, so too is the level of harm that continues to plague the jail, with no apparent end in sight,” the motion said. 

Hayne Rainey, press secretary for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said in an email to the Louisiana Record that nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been invested into the prison, and that Gusman’s operating budget for the jail has more than doubled to more than $60 million.

“It is in the best interests of our taxpayers that our jail is run competently," Rainey told the Louisiana Record. "Plain and simple, the unconstitutional conditions at the jail are a symptom of the mismanagement of the facility. We can and must do better. The city supports the appointment of a receiver to implement the necessary reforms. Orleans Parish is overdue for a constitutional jail that is operated in a safe, secure and fiscally responsible way.”

In a video interview with the New Orleans Advocate posted on the sheriff’s office website, Gusman said that he plans to “vehemently fight” the motion.

“We’re going to fight it; we’re going to oppose it; and we’re going to be successful,” he said.

Gusman said in the interview that violence has dropped at the facility, and that he believes the root of the problems stem from insufficient funding from the city. He said, for example, the city is shorting his office by approximately $3 million when it has to pay debt service and is not providing the full amount on the office’s medical-services contract, which has increased.

“If the city really were giving us $60 million, that would probably be sufficient,” Gusman said. “The fact is they’re not. The fact is that they are not providing us those revenues.”

The sheriff said the perceived lack of funding has affected staffing, citing that last year’s attrition rate of employees was 47 percent.

“In layman’s terms, that means for every two people you hire, one leaves," Gusman said. "It’s almost impossible to run a business like that."

The sheriff's office and the city are fighting on another legal front – one that involves proper facility size and property rights.

Gusman filed a lawsuit earlier this month in Orleans Parish Civil District Court to have his office declared the legal owner of property that once held the Templeton II jail before the facility was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The facility was later destroyed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently said it would pay $101.5 million to replace the Templeman I and II jails. Gusman's suit claims, however, that the city is denying the sheriff’s office what it says is its part of the funds.

The sheriff's office claims it is the legal owner of the property on which the Templeton II jail was erected before it was destroyed. The city says it told the governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness in March that it has legal responsibility for Templeman II, which means it should receive the recovery money.

In the Advocate video interview, Gusman said his facility has 1,438 beds and a population of 1,578 inmates. The facility’s functional capacity is just under 1,175, however, to avoid mixing low-level and high-level offenders, for instance.

“You want to make sure you keep all of those separate, which is why you can’t fill up your beds,” he said.

Rainey said New Orleans received a $1.5 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation toward implement reforms aimed at reducing the prison population, as well as addressing “racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.”  

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Organizations in this Story

Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center Orleans Parish Sheriff's OfficeCity of New Orleans Mayor's OfficeU.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana