New Orleans jail supervisors stage walkout after inmates fling feces, start fires
Low staffing, high inmate population are leading to fights, fires and other disciplinary problems in the Orleans Justice Center
By Missy Wilkinson and Gabriella Killett
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — Four jail supervisors walked out during their shifts inside the Orleans Justice Center on Friday following multiple fires, at least one stabbing and a feces-throwing incident in the lockup, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has confirmed.
The deputies returned to their posts later that day after speaking with sheriff’s office brass.
OPSO spokesperson Casey McGee said low staffing, coupled with a swelling jail population, have created an environment conducive to fights, disciplinary infractions by incarcerated people and uses of force.
“Being in the jail is an intense environment,” and those deputies “needed a chance to leave that environment,” McGee said.
The intensity has risen in recent weeks, with multiple arsons and other violent incidents committed in the jail.
Late on Thursday night and persisting into Friday, inmates set a series of fires in jail’s common areas, said McGee. Deputies brought the fires under control using long hoses and fire extinguishers. McGee said she was unable to provide information about any injuries from those incidents.
Earlier this month, New Orleans Fire Department personnel were called to the jail as deputies tried to put out a blaze that burned off and on for about two hours in a jail pod. The sheriff’s office sent 38 inmates for medical evaluation from that incident, according to an affidavit for the arrest of Carlos Brown.
Brown, who was jailed on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, is accused of throwing a lit object out of his cell’s trap door and into the common area of pod 3C at around 12:40 a.m. on Sept. 6. Inmates allegedly fed the blaze with paper plates and mattress stuffing, court documents show.
Five other men are accused of throwing flammables into the inferno as deputies tried to extinguish it. Hassan Barrow, Anfernee Steal, Samuel Harris, Kentrell Perenette and Quinton Skipper were all rebooked with arson.
All the prisoners were assessed for smoke inhalation and none were injured in the Sept. 6 fire, McGee said.
An ‘overwhelming’ environment
Inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults are up this year in the city lockup, amid a swelling jail population and less-than-optimal staffing.
In 2022, there were 283 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 33 inmate-on-staff assaults. Violence in the jail this year has already exceeded those figures, with 295 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 45 inmate-on-staff assaults reported, McGee said.
The fires, stabbings and feces-throwing incident led four supervisors to briefly leave their posts Friday because they felt overwhelmed, McGee said. They spoke directly with Sheriff Susan Hutson, Warden Astrid Birgden and Assistant Warden Debra Hammons before returning to their posts.
“When these things happen, it weighs heavily not only the staff, but on the leadership, because we want to make sure our staff is protected,” McGee said. “We are conscious there is a need to have balance in our mission to treat residents with humanity and support the wellness of staff while keeping both staff and residents safe.”
The jail’s population has increased roughly 30% in recent months. The City Council’s Jail Population Snapshot dashboard pegs the jail population at 1,204 people as of Tuesday. The number of full jail beds has ticked up steadily, from around 900 in January. McGee attributes the increase to a slowdown in cases moving through criminal district court.
“Our average daily jail population has gradually increased throughout the summer to a level that makes it increasingly difficult for staff to effectively maintain a safe jail for residents and staff,” McGee said.
The department is considered fully staffed at 900 people, and of those, around half are correctional officers assigned to the jail. Currently, the department sits at around 702 people.
McGee said that staffing is on the upswing, with OPSO’s ranks rising by about 100 so far this year.
On Wednesday, 36 deputies received additional certifications that will qualify them for higher pay, McGee said. Pay for deputies starts at around $18 an hour.
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