- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Inmates won’t be moving into a new Orleans Parish Prison until next year, marking the fourth time the opening date for the $145 million facility has been delayed.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman initially said the jail would open this past spring, but progress has been pushed back by construction problems, a staff shortage and delays in formulating training for new correctional officers, according to court-appointed jail monitor Susan McCampbell.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/1wi70JZ) her comments came Wednesday at a status hearing on a federal consent decree that mandated sweeping changes at the troubled New Orleans lockup.

McCampbell said the new 1,400-bed prison had been slated most recently to open in January, a date that has now been moved to mid-February.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear come February that it’s not going to be February,” McCampbell said, noting that training for corrections officers, as well as issues with the construction, needed to be addressed before the new jail could begin accepting inmates.

“Hardly any jail ever opens on time,” she said. “There should not be any urgency in taking over this building until its absolutely correct, or it will just end up costing more in the long run.”

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk conceded the delay was necessary, but he opened the hearing by chastising attorneys for the sheriff for filing a status report lauding progress at the jail, noting the numerous delays and unmet deadlines since the consent decree was adopted in 2013. Calling the status update “public relations” he ordered it stricken from the court record.

Africk noted that the city and sheriff’s office both have complained about the costs of meeting the demands of the consent decree, while the city and sheriff’s office have hired two law firms, each, to handle consent decree matters.

“I’m concerned this is getting over-lawyered,” Africk said.

The judge seemed more patient for the duration of the hearing, despite reports that policies and procedures were not in place for the training of guards to staff the new jail and that hiring efforts have fallen short of goals. McCampbell lauded the efforts of jail staff, but said changes are about a year behind consent decree benchmarks.

Also largely unmentioned was the departure of Michael Tidwell, Gusman’s jail chief. McCampbell said Gusman told her the new jail would not open until Tidwell’s replacement had been hired.

Tommie Vassel, the New Orleans attorney who heads the Budget Working Group for the jail, reported to the court that the city and sheriff’s office had reached an agreement that would fund jail operations through the end of the year, and are negotiating to close a $30 million gap for 2015.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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