Council OK’s tweak to jail ordinance, as officials consider third building

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Orleans Parish Prison under construction, pictured here on Nov. 29, 2013. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Orleans Parish Prison under construction, pictured here on Nov. 29, 2013.

The New Orleans City Council cleared another procedural hurdle on Thursday in a move that will likely give Sheriff Marlin Gusman more flexibility in housing inmates next year as officials continue to consider exactly how big the city’s local jail will be.

After the Criminal Justice Committee endorsed the idea earlier in the week, the full council unanimously approved a motion, supported by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, that would allow the sheriff to keep open a jail building known as Templeman V, even after a new 1,438-bed facility is completed next year.

The motion will still need an OK from the City Planning Commission and another vote at the council.

Provided all that happens, Templeman V, which was slated to shut down next year, will serve as temporary quarters for prisoners in need of medical and mental-health services, which the new facility is not designed to accommodate.

Ultimately, the city will be calling on jail-size experts to determine whether a permanent new building will be needed to replace Templeman V and other temporary buildings, and how many beds that building should house.

The council heard again from members of the public who pointed out that the council in 2011 set an explicit cap on the number of prison beds at 1,438, but is now getting ready to contemplate another jail building that could in effect raise that cap.

Still, the council had few options, given the need to house special inmate populations somewhere. The sheriff’s new jail complex includes two buildings, but neither has smaller tiers for inmates who need to be segregated from the general prison population.

Council members pointed out that their vote Thursday does not actually increase the number of beds that would remain open on an interim basis. The sheriff already had authority to keep open some temporary buildings — aside from Templeman V — that would have housed about 500 inmates, and the motion approved Thursday specifies that he can hold no more than 500 inmates total outside of the new 1,438-bed facility once it opens.