A motion was passed by the Council to advance a proposed 89-bed expansion of the Orleans Justice Center to accommodate the mentally ill inmate population. Three motions representing two alternative plans were brought before the Council for consideration, which directed the City Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing regarding the construction of a new facility versus retrofitting the fourth floor of the existing jail in an effort to halt expansion.
The Council passed an amendment, introduced by Councilmember Guidry, that directs the City Planning Commission to also include into its study, the option of taking away and/or re-purposing the 89 beds currently located in the jail to accommodate for the beds added as part of the new facility. With this amendment, the Council reached an agreement and passed the motion advocating for the construction of the new building for the mentally ill.
The first plan conceived by Compliance Director Maynard at the request of the Mayor was supported by Councilmembers Ramsey, Brossett and Gray and the second was submitted by Councilmembers Cantrell and Guidry. "Plan A", as it was referred to by the Council, advocated for the construction of the new 89-bed mental health facility and "Plan B" proposed keeping open an option to retrofit the current Orleans Justice Center.
The City Council passed an ordinance in 2011 which allowed Sheriff Marlin Gusman to build the 1,438-bed jail. The ordinance stated the jail should accommodate inmates with substance abuse and mental health treatment needs, with the exception of those with the worst, "acute" conditions. However, since its opening in September 2015, the jail has lacked the necessary space to care for those mentally ill prisoners. As a result, the City houses 39 mentally ill prisoners at a state prison in St. Gabriel. Sheriff's Office administrator and newly court-ordered compliance director, Gary Maynard said that the new building would allow them to bring these inmates back.
"We must develop a plan that aligns our work and our words to end the current practices of over-incarceration plaguing our City and state," said District "A" Councilmember Susan Guidry. "We owe it to our community to look at all the options and all the alternatives before coming to a conclusion on this issue."
If recommended by the Commission, and adopted later by the Council, the new facility will be built as an extension of the current complex located in the First Municipal District, bounded by Interstate Highway 10, South Broad Street, Perdido Street, and South Jefferson Davis Parkway, which is on the lot between Phases I and II of the prison complex.
"We have a moral obligation and a consent decree that requires we humanely house the inmates at the Orleans Justice Center who have mental health needs," said Councilmember-At-Large Jason Williams. "Society does not have a plan for serving the mentally ill and we need one. Jail is not mental health treatment. Phase III must not and will not become the treatment center for the City of New Orleans."