New Orleans jail tour: Is there enough space? - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New Orleans jail tour: Is there enough space?

New Orleans, La. -

The new, $140 million Orleans Parish Jail is nearing completion alongside Pontchartrain Expressway. Sheriff Marlin Gusman says the new facility will eliminate six others, and will take the city into the 21st century.

But there are questions as to whether the facility is the right size. It is an eight-story monument to what the sheriff calls the state of the prison art.

The new 1,400-bed jail appears from the outside to be nearly complete. But inside, nearly 500 workers continue to hammer out a structure that will replace a prison complex consisting of seven buildings.

"All around this will be a much more efficient operation," said Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

Unlike the current setup where inmates are in ancient, decrepit cells, often out of sight of guards, the new jail will consist of 16 tiers, each consisting of 30 two-man cells and stainless steel furnishings. "Unlike what we're doing now, the deputy will be inside the module," said Gusman.

A watch commander will oversee that tier and three others, able to see each cell and more, thanks to a network of cameras which are about to be installed.

"Every door, every cell station is able to be monitored," said Gusman.

The new jail includes a courtroom, which will eliminate a major security risk and manpower drain. "We're not going to have to as much transportation of inmates... no more daisy chains," said Gusman.

And each tier will have rooms for legal consultation, washing clothes, and showers.

"There's no way you're going to get out of that without somebody knowing," said contractor Joseph True.

The intake and processing center for the new jail will be three times bigger than the current one. Still, when the building is finished, it's clear the city will need more jail space.

Currently, Orleans Parish houses 2,300 inmates. But the new jail and the temporary jail combined will only hold 1,900, about 400 fewer.

"There's FEMA money available, but keep in mind it's the City of New Orleans' responsibility to build another facility," said Gusman.

While the current 2,300 inmate population is far below the pre-Katrina population of over 7,500, a prison study group wanted it smaller still. But Gusman says a 1,400-bed jail is not feasible, given the city's needs.

"There are people who think you can put a size 12 into a size 8 shoe," Gusman said. "But I'm not sure you can do that without surgery."

Gusman says he remains committed to working with City Hall and a new consent decree monitor to find the money for the right-sized jail, whatever that might be. 

The sheriff says the jail houses about 100 state inmates at any given time. To reduce the jail population further, he wants to speed the transfer process  and look at increasing the number of defendants on electronic monitoring.

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