"The House of Detention is now a closed chapter in the history of the sheriff's office and the city of New Orleans," Gusman said at a press conference, minutes before the few remaining HOD residents boarded a bus taking them to other Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office facilities.
More than 600 OPP inmates — all of them Orleans Parish, rather than state, detainees — have been moved out of the facility since Gusman's April 10 announcement, Gusman said. To make room for them, 400 post-conviction state inmates, recently housed in other OPP buildings, have been handed over to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to be placed in other facilities throughout the state.
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Gusman called the closure a demonstration to the city that "the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has worked consistently" and "often without fanfare" to reduce OPP's footprint. The jail now holds only 2,518 inmates and has the capacity for 2,690, down from more than 3,500 at the beginning of 2011 and more than 7,500 in 2005.
Still, Gusman added, "We have to be realistic about the city we live in today," among the most violent in the country. "The New Orleans crime struggle is not an average problem that can be solved with comparisons to national statistics and lists," Gusman said.
The building's closure comes in the midst of intense scrutiny of Gusman and OPP. Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the sheriff's office, followed quickly by a highly critical letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, both claiming a pattern of civil rights violations at the jail.
Many of Gusman's critics have cited overcrowding as one of the main reasons for many of the alleged problems at OPP, and believe the sheriff's office's budget arrangement, a per offender per day system, is an incentive to pack the jail. District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, speaking at today's press conference, said the city is in talks with Gusman to move to a traditional, pre-set budget in the 2013 fiscal year.
The press conference was followed by a brief tour of OPP's Intake Processing Center to see the jail's new pretrial services program — administered by the Vera Institute of Justice — in action.