NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The sheriff who runs New Orleans' troubled jail says he's transferring hundreds of inmates to other jurisdictions.
The action to reduce the jail's population by more than half comes as Sheriff Marlin Gusman seeks to avoid a possible court order that could strip him of his power to run the lockup. Court-appointed monitors have said Gusman has failed to end violence and other problems at the jail despite last year's move to a modern new facility. The Justice Department and inmate advocates have asked the court to place the jail in receivership, meaning an outside party would run the jail.
Katie Schwartzmann, a lawyer and inmate advocate, says the situation is "frustrating and sad" because Gusman has had years to address the jail's problems. Transferring inmates, she said, could have a "devastating impact" on the city's criminal justice system.
"These are people who are pretrial and have not been convicted of a crime," Schwartzmann, co-director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, said Wednesday in an email. "They need access to lawyers and the courts so that their cases can be processed. Because of management failures at the jail they will be housed four hours away."
In court papers filed late Tuesday, Gusman's lawyers revealed plans to move about 600 inmates. Last week, lawyers for the Justice Department and the MacArthur center asked a court to appoint a third party to operate the jail, saying Gusman has for years failed to improve conditions. Gusman is seeking to delay proceedings that could lead to such an appointment.
The court documents say reducing the jail population will give him time to increase and better train his Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office staff.
Gusman had already taken steps to reduce the jail population in recent months, including inmate transfers, amid ongoing disagreements with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration on whether still more jail space is needed after last year's opening of a facility designed to house more than 1,400 inmates.
Tuesday's filing says the moves, to be completed by the end of next week, will reduce the jail population from more than 1,100 to about 530.
Most of the inmates have been, or are being, transferred to a jail in East Carroll Parish in northeast Louisiana. Schwartzmann estimates that, including earlier moves, 1,000 pretrial inmates are being held hours away from New Orleans.
"This could have a potentially devastating impact on our whole criminal justice system and our community," Schwartzmann said.
Papers outlining the latest transfers were filed with a motion to push back filing deadlines in the battle over whether a receiver should be appointed to run the jail. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk scheduled a May 25 hearing on the issue and wants Gusman's legal response by May 10. On Wednesday, Africk denied the motion to roll back those dates.