NEW ORLEANS – Today, the City of New Orleans’ Department of Safety & Permits issued a stop work order on all construction of the new Orleans Parish jail due to flagrant violations of City Code and failing to build a jail that can house all populations, including those with medical and mental health needs – a key requirement in the permits approved by the City Council. Additionally, the City Attorney’s Office today filed a writ of mandamus in Civil District Court ordering Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to fulfill his ministerial duty to adhere to the local ordinance that requires the new facility to house all inmates (individuals with acute mental health needs are excluded from this requirement).
“The new jail facility being constructed is in plain violation of the law, including the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and the conditional use permit approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council,” said Jared Munster, director of the New Orleans Department of Safety & Permits. “When construction of the jail was debated and decided back in 2010 and 2011, the Sheriff was required to build a prison that addresses the needs of all populations as conditions for approval, including those with medical and mental health needs; the current jail facility is not equipped to do that. Therefore, the City of New Orleans is ordering the Sheriff to halt all construction on the project until the City can verify that the Sheriff has properly addressed these vulnerable populations in the new jail facility.”
The new Phase II jail facility required Conditional Use approval through the City Planning Commission and City Council prior to permitting. Therefore, the technical citation for issuance of the Stop Work Order is that the project stands in violation of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance 4,264 MCS, as amended) and Ordinance 24,828 MCS, which authorized this specific conditional use in 2011.
The federal courts and the consent decree monitor have both recognized that the new Phase II facility has not been properly constructed to adequately house inmates with medical and mental health conditions, female and juvenile inmates, disabled inmates, or inmates requiring disciplinary and/or administrative segregation. Therefore, the City Attorney’s Office has also filed a writ of mandamus lawsuit asking the Civil District Court to require the Sheriff to get the new jail into compliance as soon as possible.
“The Sheriff simply refuses to comply with City law and continues to ignore directives of the City and the City Council. Our request is that the Sheriff follow the law and build a jail to house all inmates, and we ask that he abide by the terms of approval authorized by the City Planning Commission and City Council,” said City Attorney Sharonda Williams.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman has previously proposed building a Phase III jail facility, which would house vulnerable populations and cost about $85 million in additional funds to construct. Instead of constructing a new jail facility, the City has said the under-construction Phase II jail facility should accommodate all populations so that a third costly jail facility is not needed. The City is ordering the Sheriff to demonstrate how the jail will handle all populations or submit plans for renovations that will allow the jail to house all populations.
Deputy Mayor & CAO Andy Kopplin said, “The taxpayers have already made historic investments of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in the Sheriff’s new jail and administrative facilities. Instead of a third jail building at an extraordinary cost to taxpayers, the City believes we should instead focus on reducing our incarceration rates. The City of New Orleans, City Council and our criminal justice partners are all in agreement that we should build a jail with no more than 1,438 beds that would house all prisoners, and that’s what the Sheriff received the permits to build. He is instead asking to build a bigger jail that will cost taxpayers more money and won’t make us any safer. That same money should be spent on the top priorities of residents, such as police and fire stations, street repairs, parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities, rather than building an unnecessary and expensive jail.”
Charles West, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Coordination, said, “New Orleans has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. However, we have been working to develop a comprehensive jail population management strategic plan which will enable the City to make fewer unnecessary arrests, strengthen our pre-trial services program, work with our criminal justice partners to reduce the time people are in jail awaiting trial and implement evidence-based practices that facilitate the transition from jail to the community – all of which will reduce the need for a larger jail facility.”
In 2010, Orleans Parish had the largest jail population per capita in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This figure was more than four times the national average. Since then, the City has made significant reductions in its incarceration rates. As of 2015, the local jail population is 5.2 per 1,000 and has an average daily population of pretrial detainees that is consistently under 1,500. In addition, NOPD officers now use summonses when appropriate in place of arrests. However, Orleans Parish Prison is still among the largest jails in the country per capita, and the City will continue to make strides in reducing incarceration rates in a way that strengthens the community and ensures public safety.