NEW ORLEANS – Ending years of debate about the Orleans Parish Sheriff Office’s budget and the right size of the Orleans Justice Center (formerly Orleans Parish Prison or OPP), Mayor Landrieu today outlined a plan to reform and properly resource the Orleans parish jail. Today’s announcement culminates years of work behind the scenes to reform the criminal justice system and ensure transparency and accountability for public tax dollars.
“Our top priority is public safety. Having a safe, well-run jail, both in its operations and its budget, play a large role in that. My administration has made requests for years to right-size the jail and make sure its budget is a balanced. It is a big deal that we have now forced major changes to occur. On behalf of the City, I want to thank Director Maynard, who’s been on board for only six months, for his diligence in presenting a comprehensive and detailed budget for approval,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “His willingness to engage in this process in a thoughtful, detailed and transparent manner is evidence of the commitment to both operational and managerial reform at OPSO. While this has been a long, tough and, at times, contentious process, it will no doubt lead to cost savings for our taxpayers.”
Today, Mayor Landrieu noted that we have:
- A right-sized 2017 budget, which is approximately $400,000 less than 2016, with multi-year budget projections based on jail population reduction targets;
- A pathway for additional budgetary and operational reforms at the jail;
- A master plan for a small, 89-bed phase III jail building specifically for those inmates with acute mental health and medical needs; and,
- A final settlement on the use of $55.6 million in FEMA funds for criminal justice facilities, which included allocations for an expansion of the Youth Study Center juvenile justice complex, a retrofit of the Temporary Detention Center (TDC), and repair of the “docks” at Criminal District Court.
This paves the way for progress in reforming the jail to Constitutional standards as well as moving forward with more progressive criminal justice policies around incarceration of youths and inmates with mental health needs, all major public safety goals of the City.
Criminal Justice Commissioner Judge Calvin Johnson said, “I am so proud of the fact that I have been a small part of the process that has led to this day. We now have, going forward, and holistic strategy for the New Orleans Justice Center. This will save resources and lives.”
For the first time, the Sheriff’s Office has presented a comprehensive and detailed budget for consideration by the City Council for approval. Additionally, there is a detailed plan for addressing, among others:
- Staff deployment, overtime, and leave usage,;
- Strategies to ensure implementation of budget control measures and competition in procurements, including a process to include regular communication between the Chief Financial Officer/ Compliance Director and the Financial Liaison for the City; and
- An analysis of all individuals on OPSO payroll and an updated pay plan that standardizes base pay for security staff.
Major cost-saving measures have also been identified such as reduction in overtime spending, elimination of one-time liability expenses from 2017-2018, and significant reductions in out-of-parish inmate housing costs beginning in 2018.
Director Maynard has also stated that his office will review procurement practices, professional services contracts, and the off-duty detail system.
RIGHTSIZING THE JAIL
In early 2005, the city’s sprawling jail complex held about 6,500 inmates, and the city had the largest local incarceration rate per capita. Detention was a default for most system actors, from police to judges to probation officers, and the charges facing a defendant played a significant role in decision-making. For defendants with no bail money, even minor infractions often meant months in prison. In 2010, the average daily population in the jail was more than 3,200, a rate of 9.3 per 1,000 citizens, and it was ranked high among the U.S. jails with the worst conditions.
Following the recommendations of a Criminal Justice Working Group convened by Mayor Landrieu, the City Council passed an ordinance that allowed for construction of one of the proposed buildings, with 1,438 beds, and ordered all other preexisting buildings close within 18 months of the new facility’s opening. At the same time, right before Mayor Landrieu took office, the U.S. Department of Justice was also preparing a consent decree for the local jail due to unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
The City began taking a collaborative approach to reducing the jail population. No one agency is responsible for the overuse of jail in New Orleans, and it will take effort and support from all criminal justice agencies to change how the jail is used. In early 2015, Mayor Landrieu convened the first meeting of the Jail Population Management (JPM) Subcommittee under the support of the Criminal Justice Council. The group was charged with collaboratively developing a plan to reduce the jail population. The Subcommittee includes representatives of the City, the City Council, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, Criminal District Court, the Clerk of Criminal District Court, Municipal Court, Traffic Court, and Probation & Parole.
Soon after, the MacArthur Foundation announced the Safety and Justice Challenge, a major new grant that aims to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The goals are two-fold: reduce local incarceration, and reduce racial and ethnic disparity in the jails and criminal justice system. Upon submitting an ambitious proposal, New Orleans received $1.5 million from the foundation in April 2016 to move forward with implementation over two years.
The City’s plan includes seven strategies for reducing the jail population and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the jail. The plan will:
- Connect people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders to services and treatment in lieu of arrest for certain offenses;
- Increase advocacy by public defenders at first appearance, increase bond review hearings for lower risk defendants unable to make bond, and implement a new evidence-based pretrial risk assessment and decision-making framework;
- Hire a “jail facilitator” whose responsibility it will be to reduce the jail population by addressing system inefficiencies in the processing of cases, increasing pretrial release for lower risk defendants, and improving the transportation of detainees to court and Department of Corrections;
- Reduce admissions and length of stay for alleged probation and parole violators, in part by offering administrative sanctions for technical violations in lieu of arrest;
- Develop a strategy to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the jail, including implicit bias training for decision-makers in the system;
- Launch a community engagement strategy, including community representation on the Jail Population Management Subcommittee; and
- Launch a new court date notification system that will send text messages to defendants 48 hours in advance of a court hearing reminding them of the date and section for their appearance.
PHASE III BUILDING
The Phase III jail facility represents the plan to bring inmates currently housed at Elayn Hunt Correction Center, for mental health reasons, to an on-site Phase III facility that is projected to be completed in mid-2019. Phase III can take between 28 and 42 months to complete pending approval from FEMA of the procurement process.
The Phase III building ensures no crowding with additional capacity. The design is more efficient and customized to medical, mental health and other special management populations, is paid for by FEMA funds, and connects to Phase II as well as the warehouse/kitchen for better inmate flow.
Bringing out-of-parish inmates back into Orleans Justice Center Phase III facility results in an annual gross savings of approximately $1.6 million. Some of those savings, however, are offset by hiring additional security staff needed to fully staff the on-site facility.
OPSO and the City have an opportunity to enhance these savings if New Orleans’ criminal justice system works collaboratively to continue and accelerate the reduction of the inmate population.
If OPSO’s inmate population is sufficiently reduced to allow for the closure of TDC upon the opening of Phase III, OPSO would not require additional staff to be hired to operate Phase III, resulting in annual savings of $1.6 million in Elayn Hunt Correction Center housing costs.
The project scope includes renovation of the Docks to maintain the operational purpose as a holding area for inmates going to trial in Criminal Court. The renovation will provide accessibility to the docks from a ground floor area while making the Docks inaccessible from other areas of the Justice Center. Renovation will include three holding rooms, one cell for females and two for males, open seating for 48 inmates, and a security desk.
YOUTH STUDY CENTER EXPANSION
The $16 million expansion of the Youth Study Center is in the design phase. The design is anticipated to be completed in May 2017. The project will go out for bid following the completion of the design phase. The completion date for the expansion is July 2018.
All youth will be moved out of the Orleans Justice Center and into the 28-bed expansion of the Youth Study Center once it opens. This will free up capacity for adult inmates in the current Orleans Justice Center facility instead of building more beds. OPSO is exploring a plan to move youth out now to nearby youth facilities until the Youth Study Center expansion is completed.