The opening of New Orleans’ $145-million prison has been delayed multiple times, most recently due to an order from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to halt construction.
In late June, the New Orleans Dept. of Safety & Permits declared Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman in violation of a conditional use permit. On July 16, the department reversed its decision and allowed work to resume.
The 433,000-sq-ft facility, which is nearing completion and originally was supposed to open in summer 2014, features 1,438 beds and is designed to better serve a growing inmate population. As the prison was being constructed in 2013, the sheriff’s office entered into a federal consent decree to improve the facilities, which had been noted for its violence, escapes, inmate deaths and poor mental health care.
Prison projects in other parts of the U.S. also have run into trouble recently. In February, an Iowa newspaper, The Gazette, reported that a key lawmaker in that state was concerned the costs for the new Iowa State Penitentiary were surpassing early estimates. And Wayne County, Mich., is in court with its construction team—and several former or present county employees—were indicted, over the costs of the Wayne County jail, where work has stopped.
In New Orleans, General contractor McDonnel Group, Metairie, La., broke ground on the facility in September 2011 and worked an advanced sequence with a prefab cell design and extensive building information modeling. As of December 2013, the project had been on target to open in summer 2014.
The development was the latest in a series of standoffs between the sheriff and city. The project also has been delayed multiple times due to budget issues and reports by federal monitors tracking reforms and, in early June, problems with the electronic security system. On June 24, the New Orleans Dept. of Safety & Permits deemed the new facility in “plain violation” of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and conditional-use permit approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
While no fault has been placed on contractors or architects, the notice said the prison’s new design didn’t provide adequate housing for female and juvenile inmates and those with medical or mental needs.
Jared Munster, director of the New Orleans Dept. of Safety & Permits, in a late-June press release said the facility being constructed didn’t address needs discussed during the design and planning phase in 2010 and 2011. So, the city ordered the sheriff to halt all construction until those needs were met.
But in an abrupt turnaround in late July, Landrieu’s administration withdrew its complaint after the sheriff’s office provided documents resolving the design disputes, according to a report from The New Orleans Advocate. Blake Arcuri, an attorney for Gusman, said work was proceeding and that the sheriff’s office planned to begin moving inmates into the new facility as early as mid-August.
Gusman previously proposed building a separate, $85-million facility to house the high-risk inmates. The city argued that the currently-under-construction phase two should accommodate all populations and is ordering the sheriff to submit plans and demonstrate how to do that.