Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gusman: "Root cause" of conditions at OPP is inadequate funding

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman yesterday formally opposed New Orleans city government's motion to appoint a federal receiver to take over the operations of Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), arguing that it is not inadequate management but decades of inadequate city funding that led to the jail's current state, which is as follows:

"On Sunday, April 7, 2013 the Times Picayune ran a front page story asking the rhetorical
question “Sheriff Marlin Gusman - worst jailer? Or - is he just burdened with the worst jail?” As will be clearly proven below, the answer to that question is that he is burdened with the worst jail," reads the opening paragraph of Gusman's motion in opposition to the city's request.

We should do a refresher on the arguments being made here. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk is weighing whether to adopt a consent decree for OPP, pursuant to a federal class action lawsuit against the prison. The inmate plaintiff class, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are in favor of the decree, arguing that conditions at the jail violate the U.S. Constitution.

Gusman is also in favor of the consent decree, because, as his attorneys say above, OPP is "the worst jail." However, he does not concede that conditions are unconstitutional, just "the worst." In fact, during testimony at a recent fairness hearing for the decree, he said, “I think we’re doing pretty good without the consent decree.”

The city, meanwhile, believes the jail is so poorly run that it needs to be taken over by the federal government, but the consent decree, a less extreme measure (albeit a potentially costly one), is overly broad.

So anyway.

(More after the jump)

Yesterday's motion goes into some detail about another OPP consent decree, from the 1969 case Hamilton v. Schiro, which resulted in the jail's per diem funding structure.

From the motion:

In 1989, Sheriff Foti filed a motion in Hamilton to increase the City’s funding of his Office.
This motion resulted in a Stipulation and Consent Judgment entered July 17, 1990 (Hamilton Rec. Doc.419). The City agreed to increase its housing payment to $19.65 a day, per inmate, effective January 1, 1991. The agreement also provided for direct payment by the City of all utilities, gasoline and oil, health insurance, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance for the Sheriff’s Office, for direct payment for the cost of providing medical care for City inmates, and appropriations to the Sheriff for the cost of providing court services for Criminal Court.

Back then, the city retained an expert to determine an appropriate rate. The city never revealed the results of that report, the sheriff's office claims, but it somehow appeared in an analysis by the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), which Gusman submits as an exhibit. The expert, BGR claims, recommended $22.54, 15 cents higher than the current per inmate, per day rate.

From the motion:

Clearly, the City Council and past and present Mayors have long been aware both of the City’s constitutional funding obligation to OPP, and that (based on their own expert’s report twenty-three years ago) the $19.65 housing per diem the City grudgingly agreed to then was a tremendous bargain then - and that the modest 2003 increase to $22.39 remains inadequate today.

The City cannot continue to balance its budget on the back of the Sheriff and the United States Constitution. Today, OPP faces the inevitable result of more than thirty years’ neglect by the City of the City’s correctional operations and facilities and its obligation to that system. It is unfortunate that the burden for those decades of inattention must now fall on the present Mayor and City Council, and the taxpayers of the City - and Sheriff Gusman as well. However, to place the blame for the present situation on Sheriff Gusman, much less to suggest he should be stripped of virtually all powers and responsibilities of the office to which he was elected by the citizens of New Orleans, is patently wrong.

Read Gusman's motion: Gusman_Motion.pdf

Read the city's request for a receiver: CityReceiver.pdf

Read the BGR excerpts submitted as evidence: BGR_Excerpt.pdf

The plaintiffs weigh in: "Plaintiffs summarize applicable law but take no position on whether a receiver can be appointed at this time. Plaintiffs remain focused on advocating for the timely entry of the Consent Judgment to address the ongoing dangerous and unlawful conditions at OPP. PlaintiffsResponse.pdf

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