- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - For the second time in five months, the sheriff in New Orleans has ordered a large group of inmates transferred to a north Louisiana jail, even though many await trial in New Orleans.

The transfers have drawn intense criticism from inmate advocates and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Landrieu and Sheriff Marlin Gusman have been in a legal and political dispute for years over funding of court-ordered jail reforms.

In a Friday statement, Gusman’s office said about 140 pre-trial inmates and state inmates were being transferred hours away to East Carroll Parish because they could not be safely kept in the city jail due to a shortage of deputies.

The sheriff argues his staff is being depleted because his deputies are not paid enough.

The new inmates join about 130 New Orleans inmates already in the Riverbend Detention Center, a jail run by the north Louisiana parish. The sheriff said the inmates being transferred were considered “low-to-medium” security risks.

Transferring inmates who have not been convicted to a jail so far from New Orleans is wrong, said Katie Schwartzmann, a lawyer with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center. Schwartzmann is part of a lawsuit that led to court-ordered jail reforms.

“They are being moved four and a half hours away,” Schwartzmann said. She said this was an unjustified burden for the inmates’ lawyers and families.

“You are going to grind these cases to a halt and it has the real possibility of jamming up the criminal justice system here in New Orleans,” she said.

Rather than transfer pre-trial detainees, Schwartzmann said, Gusman should stop housing a large number of state convicts who are part of a re-entry program.

Sarah N. McLaughlin, a city spokeswoman, said there would be plenty of room in the city jail if the state inmates were sent to state prisons. She said the transfers are placing an “undue burden on our criminal justice system.”

East Carroll authorities are driving inmates back and forth for court appearances as needed, said Amy Barrios, a spokeswoman for Gusman. Barrios said East Carroll receives $30 a day for each inmate it houses.

The sheriff’s office said it received a notice on Jan. 14 from the court-appointed reform monitor warning that a decline in staffing levels at the New Orleans jail endangered inmates.

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Associated Press writer Kevin McGill contributed material to this report.

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