September 17, 2020

City Council

Council Adopts Resolution Requesting Alternative Option to Phase III Construction of New Jail Facility

Seal of the City of New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS - During today's regular meeting, the Council adopted Resolution R-20-308 requesting that the City Attorney and Mayor's Administration make all reasonable and appropriate efforts to identify other alternatives to the new $51 million Phase III jail facility. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the finances of the City and thousands of its residents, forcing large event cancellations that continue to this day. Recent reports estimate these disruptions will have a $1.2 billion impact on the City, requiring local officials to make exceedingly difficult decisions about the services it can provide to its residents in the foreseeable future.


Per the resolution, the average daily inmate population has dropped substantially from 2,645 in late 2012 to 1,160 in 2019, an astounding 56% decrease since the initial plans were approved in 2017. The Council has consistently attempted through legislative and administrative processes to limit the jail structure to further the City's goal of safely reducing the jail population in an equitable and fiscally responsible manner. 


Additionally, the City has worked to complete a renovation to the Temporary Detention Center (TDC) to house the OJC's special populations, marking an additional $6.27 million or more investment by the City in its jail facilities. These developments, combined with increased staff training, vastly upgraded facilities, as well as improved medical and mental health services, have substantially improved the conditions for those incarcerated at the OJC.


"At varying moments of this debate, we have been faced with a different set of circumstances with a different complement of options at our disposal. We have always kept the humanity of the population we are discussing at the forefront, and for the first time, we have viable plans that would handle our people constitutionally and get them back to Orleans and closer to their families sooner," said Councilmember Jason Williams. "The City will face a tremendous challenge if required to build, staff, and maintain a new building. With the added staffing, maintenance, utilities, and other upkeep, there is tremendous potential for us to lose great expense building something and not be able to maintain it adequately. This is a unique moment to make a decision that will both serve New Orleans families and protect the fiscal health of the City. We cannot and should not come out of this pandemic just as we were when it started, but instead, a time of exponential growth for us as people and as a City at large."


While the Council recognizes a dire local need for solutions to more appropriately treat those living with serious mental illness outside of jail settings, a new Phase III facility would substantially hamper this worthy pursuit. Given the drastic change in circumstances, the resolution affirms the need for a far more viable and fiscally responsible alternative and approach to this issue.


"I have long advocated for retrofitting Phase II, rather than constructing a new Phase III building, something that the financial realities of COVID-19 make even more necessary. Our city is facing a financial crisis, and our tax base is not going to return for the foreseeable future. We can not afford to spend millions of dollars expanding a jail that we could retrofit in less time for less money. We could instead invest those dollars into dealing with people who suffer from acute mental illness instead of criminalizing them. There are still staffing and training complaints at the existing jail; I worry a new building will not fix any of the problems and could actually exacerbate them. I believe this Administration wants to do the right thing. If we can move quickly toward the retrofit, we can ensure the City is providing the necessary care for people imprisoned at the jail while being responsible stewards of our limited budget," said Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer.


"The overarching goal is to find solutions for those with mental illness outside of the criminal justice system. The Council remains committed to serving vulnerable populations, meeting constitutional requirements, and we are working to accomplish this in a manner that is fiscally sound. We've worked towards that with amendments to the conditional use ordinance that provides for the Orleans Justice Center's Temporary Detention Center. The Council has complete authority over land use matters and voted on the ordinance earlier this year. That law limited the number of inmates and included language that does not restrict the City to the 'Phase III' concept. Rather, the aim is to provide for a 'permanent facility or unit for the housing of male and female inmates classified with acute and subacute mental health conditions.' We support efforts of the Administration to find appropriate alternatives to a brand new, expensive facility," said Councilmember Jay H. Banks. 






Media Contact:

Keith D. Lampkin

Office of Jason R. Williams, Council-At-Large

(504) 758-8913

Back to top