The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office began closing the city-owned House of Detention last week. Sheriff Marlin Gusman, speaking at a press conference outside the construction site for the Orleans Parish Prison's (OPP) new kitchen and warehouse facility set to open later this year, said the decision came partly as a result of criticism from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), including a recent report which found OPP to have a particularly high number of sexual assaults.
"Certainly the mounting criticism, the inspections by the federal people" were a factor in the decision to close the facility, Gusman said. The report came less than a week after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class-action lawsuit against Gusman alleging inhumane conditions at the jail. Gusman declined to comment on any pending litigation.
The move will displace 628 inmates — including 400 convicted state prisoners serving their terms inside OPP. Those inmates will be sent to other facilities throughout Louisiana. The state is attempting to find those accommodations, Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) spokeswoman Pam Laborde wrote in an emailed statement: "Sheriff Gusman notified [Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James] LeBlanc late Monday evening [April 9] of his decision to close HOD. The Department is currently in the process of making arrangements to accommodate the approximately 400 state offenders that will need new housing assignments. We'll first fill any vacancies we have at the state level and then assign the remaining offenders to parish and private jails on the local level as space is available."
Asked whether the state — perhaps concerned about ongoing federal investigations into OPP conditions, along with the many lawsuits pending against the Sheriff's Office — requested that inmates be moved to other parishes, Laborde wrote that the decision was Gusman's alone. "The Department supports the sheriff's decision and will work with him over the next several days to safely reassign the 400 DOC offenders to other facilities across the state," Laborde wrote.
The fate of about 100 state defendants still awaiting trial or sentencing was unclear; they may be sent to other parishes. The remaining 100-plus city inmates will be sent to other facilities within OPP. Gusman said all 628 inmates were scheduled to be moved by the beginning of this week. — Charles Maldonado