Fresh from announcing a federal consent decree addressing reforms and changes surrounding the operation of the Orleans Parish Jail, Sheriff Marlin Gusman says the agreement will help build the public’s confidence in how the jail is run. But Gusman says the consent decree will not solve all problems with keeping people locked up.
“By its nature, a jail is a difficult place,” Gusman said from his office Thursday afternoon.
Gusman and his department have taken heat this year regarding escapees, violence among inmates, and an ankle bracelet monitoring system that’s connected to at least one high-profile crime spree.
Gusman defends the bracelet program saying less than three or four percent of inmates participating in the program cause problems. He also says two high-profile reports regarding sexual assaults in the jail are flat-out false. And he says, while most of the people in the New Orleans area have recovered from Hurricane Katrina, his deputies are still using temporary tents for jail space and other makeshift facilities to do their jobs, most of which are done behind the scenes and out of the public eye.
“Therefore, the public really doesn’t get a chance to see what we do unless something bad happens,” Gusman said.
Gusman also touts his department’s rehabilitation programs that help prepare inmates to return to a free life. He says almost all of them, at some point, will be released, so they need to have skills that will help them stay out of jail and have productive lives.
“We’re not trying to make it (jail) a bad place. We’re trying to make it a place where you can still have dignity and respect.”
A new jail and kitchen facility are under construction. All should be in use by early 2014. But Gusman says the sheriff’s office still has a serious problem with keeping its staff. Gusman says his deputies’ starting salaries are around $21,000 a year. He says he’s spending good money to train people who leave the sheriff’s office for higher paying jobs with other departments.
Gusman says he needs funding for about 100 more deputies, and he needs their starting salaries to be in the $27,000 range.
“You can’t have a great facility and not have well-trained people to manage and run it,” he explained.