Responding to Mayor Mitch Landrieu's claims today during an emergency City Council meeting that enacting a proposed federal consent decree for the Orleans Parish Prison would result in mass layoffs, furloughs, operating cuts or some combination, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman offered a blistering assessment of what he called a "last-ditch attempt" by Landrieu to shirk his responsibilities.
"Today's City Hall spectacle was a last-ditch attempt by the mayor to deflect attention away from a problem he knew was coming for many years," Gusman said at a press conference, which began even as the emergency meeting was in session. "The city of New Orleans has failed to fulfill its legal obligation to adequately pay for the care and custody of the city's inmates."
A fairness hearing, determining whether the OPP consent decree is necessary, is scheduled for Monday, April 1 in U.S. District cost. That will be followed by a trial on funding, the disputed issue, in May.
Landrieu said the consent decree will add $22 million in additional costs per year, or $110 million over five years.
"I have no idea where he got that from," Gusman said, noting that the consent decree, as written, would be lifted after two years of compliance.
But according to a July 2012 email from Gusman's attorneys to the city and the Justice Department, recently submitted to federal court, $22 million is in line with the Sheriff's Office's own numbers. And, since that estimate is mostly comprised of personnel costs, most of that would appear, at least, to be long-term, if not permanent.
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Though declining to provide his own estimates as to the net effect of consent decree requirements to his budget, Gusman said today that the overall cost of the jail would be significantly reduced after 2014, when he is scheduled to replace most of his existing housing facilities with a new building currently under construction.
"Right now, as we speak, we're operating seven different facilities," he said.
Gusman repeatedly stressed the necessity of the consent decree but refused to concede that OPP is currently being run unconstitutionally, which is precisely the federal government's justification for imposing the consent decree, as well as the question before the court next week.
"The things in the consent decree are things we want to do," Gusman said. "We want to have that oversight. That gives the public confidence."