Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is preparing to move prisoners into the new jail facility this week, but one thing's still missing — a formal name for the 1,400-bed facility. That's by design, Gusman says: "We'll be naming it soon, probably at a small ceremony." The name, he says, will pay tribute to a "deceased, prominent New Orleanian." Plans for the new facility began in 2009, and builders broke ground in 2011.
In June, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration obtained a stop-work order against the Sheriff's Office, claiming the new building did not adequately house special-needs populations like those with substance abuse issues. In July, the city dropped the challenge.
One special needs group — those with mental health problems — will not be included in current plans. Gusman wants to build another 600-bed facility ("Phase III") to house those inmates. Currently prisoners with mental health needs are sent to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel in Iberville Parish near Baton Rouge.
The original Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) was constructed in the 1920s, and prisoners have been housed there and in other nearby buildings since. Some facilities have been closed, like the notorious House of Detention, while others (such as the old jail adjacent to Criminal District Court) remain open. Windows on the new building look down on the large tent city of prisoners in what eventually will be the new jail's parking lot. Gusman says when the last of the buildings is closed and all the prisoners have been transferred, he plans to have a jazz funeral for the old OPP. "It deserves it," he said. — KEVIN ALLMAN