- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A civil district judge in New Orleans temporarily ordered work to resume on a nearly finished $145 million city jail.

Judge Kern A. Reese on Friday granted a temporary restraining order requested by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. That allowed construction work at the jail to continue until a July 8 hearing.

“Our biggest fear was that this wouldn’t be a temporary work stoppage while this business with the city was sorted out and that it would take a long time to get our workers and contractors mobilized and on the job again,” said James Williams, an attorney for the sheriff’s office.

“Thankfully for those people and families working on this project, the judge temporarily ruled with the sheriff,” he said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration issued a stop-work order Wednesday, saying the jail hasn’t been built to house all types of inmates, including those with medical and mental health needs. The city says accommodating such prisoners was a requirement of permits issued by the City Council.

The city ordered a halt to further construction until Gusman can verify that he has addressed the problem.

“We can now resume our efforts to promote public safety by completing the construction of inmate housing,” Gusman said in a statement issued after the ruling. “The City of New Orleans can no longer stand in the way of the completion of our facilities or use politics to confuse the public.”

Williams said construction crews intend to be back on the job Saturday.

“The jail currently under construction is still not compliant with City Code,” Landrieu’s press secretary Brad Howard said in a statement. “We continue to urge the Sheriff to follow the law and abide by the terms authorized by the City Planning Commission and the City Council and look forward to making our case at the July 8 hearing.”

Landrieu has been highly critical of Gusman’s management of the jail.

Gusman has criticized the city for failing to provide adequate funding.

A lawsuit by inmates and the U.S. Justice Department resulted in a reform agreement with Gusman, which U.S. District Judge Lance Africk approved in 2013. The agreement, known as a consent decree, calls for Gusman to provide adequate medical and mental health care for inmates while overhauling policies on use of force and rape prevention, among other reforms.

Court approval followed the 2013 discovery of an inmate-made video showing blatant drug use, drinking and the brandishing of a loaded gun in a section of the jail complex that had been closed by the time the video became public.

Implementation of the agreement has been slow-going, marked at times by court fights between Gusman and Landrieu’s administration over funding for the jail.

A report last August by independent monitor Susan McCampbell said inmates and staff at the lockup “continue to face grave harm.” The dangers were evident again in March after authorities reported that an unattended inmate apparently strangled himself with a telephone cord.

Opening of the new jail has been postponed numerous times, in part because of the failure to provide facilities to keep mentally ill and young prisoners out of the general population.

Gusman said the sheriff’s office is 100 percent “committed to building a constitutional jail that will make the city safe, for all individuals.”

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