NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It's been a month since the sheriff closed down a prisoner handling facility called "the docks," prompting security concerns at Orleans Criminal Court. Now, a federal judge has ordered that the facility be reopened.
Ever since the old parish prison closed, more than 200 inmates a day have brought to court by bus and offloaded in the sallyport. They are then escorted behind a makeshift fence into the old coroner's office, then transferred through a court hallway and a courtroom in session. And they are closely guarded by sheriff's deputies known at court as "the men in black."
"Judges have told us they are concerned about security," said Simone Levine, with Court Watch Nola.
Now, a federal judge has stepped in to say that the old docks facility in the rear of old parish prison must be reopened next week, in spite of staffing concerns expressed by the Sheriff's Office.
"The judge has ordered that the city pay for the manpower we need in order to safely transport inmates through the old parish prison building and into court," said counsel for the Sheriff's Office James Williams.
"At the end of the day, the city pays for everything. It's a matter of doing it the right way," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
Sources say securing the docks will require between 11 and 16 deputies. But they say it's a much safer arrangement that won't inconvenience at least one judge whose court has been used as a prisoner walkway.
The reopening of the docks is not considered to be the long-term solution, and the city is being required to explore other options.
"The sheriff doesn't have the responsibility to build a replacement. The city has the responsibility to build that," Williams said.
"We're not sure yet. We're not finished our negotiations," Landrieu said.
After testimony from New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison on Thursday, one issue that appears to be off the table is using New Orleans police officers to transfer inmates.
"Superintendent Harrison testified about his concerns of doing that,"Williams said.
But all sides are confident that a safer prisoner transport system will be in place next week.
Landrieu questions how the construction of a new jail did not include a new facility to get inmates into and out of court. He says all of these issues are part of ongoing negotiations.