The city of New Orleans is seeking to suspend the programming, design and construction of a new Phase III of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) jail facility, with city officials announcing today that it has requested a modification of prior court orders in order halt jail expansion plans indefinitely.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell says the move comes as the city of New Orleans faces dwindling resources resulting from the current pandemic, but also indicated that it is also in response to concerns over increasing the size of the jail .

“This administration is focused on making decisions that take into account all of the relevant factors when it comes to committing city resources, and doing what is right for all of our people,” Mayor Cantrell said in a statement released today (Monday, June 29). “We have to meet the many challenges being presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as address our community’s call for reform. We believe this action meets both challenges.

Phase III would add 89 new beds to the Orleans Justice Center that would be reserved for use as a medical health unit for inmates in need of such care, a facility that Sheriff Marlin Gusman has long said is needed. The OJC is currently a 1,438-bed inmate jail.

But city officials say that the third phase of expansion is not needed for compliance with the federal consent decree that jail is now under. And with current fiscal concerns, they say it cannot afford it.

“Considering the financial constraints of the city, a significantly reduced and declining jail population, and the ability to meet constitutional standards in current facilities, a modification of previously issues court orders has been requested to indefinitely suspend the programming, design, and construction of Phase III, as appropriate and prudent,” City Attorney Sunni LeBeouf wrote in the filing.

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