After a six-hour round of testimony in federal court over the Orleans Parish Parish consent decree, Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a brief press conference outside OPP's intake center in the shadow (and noise) of new facility construction. As he did last week following Mayor Mitch Landrieu's emergency City Council meeting on the OPP consent decree, Gusman slammed the mayor and defended the internal reforms at the sheriff's office — and addressed the content of a damning video of inmates at the now-closed House of Detention, which closed last year.
"That video from 2009 revealed in graphic detail the devastating effect of rumbling, outdated jail buildings that are lacking modern security measure," Gusman said. "The four-year-old images you saw reflect the old way of warehousing inmates. ... The actions taken in that video are unacceptable and despicable."
Yesterday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for a special New Orleans City Council meeting to discuss the proposed federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison — namely how the millions of dollars to pay for it would cripple the city’s budget.
Today, Landrieu said a consent decree with Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — on top of the consent agreement to reform NOPD — “cannot be paid for in this fiscal year without raising taxes or substantially gutting city services.”
“During this fiscal year, the sheriff, DOJ, federal judges are all riding up to tell us and the taxpayers of the city to write a blank check and hand it over,” Landrieu said. “We will not voluntarily write an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money to the Orleans Parish sheriff’s office.”
Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin laid out four possible budget scenarios if the city accommodates the $22 million (and growing) cost of the prison consent decree: all city employees would be furloughed 30 days this year; the city would lay off 779 employees; all city departments would take a 45 percent cut; or, in what the city expects to be the most realistic scenario, a combination of 305 layoffs, 15 furlough days for all city employees, and 6.3 percent cuts in other departments and services.
Landrieu’s chief concern is the potential cost to public safety. “If we are forced to make these cuts, they will be real … and throw our entire criminal justice system in disarray,” he said. Kopplin outlined dire cuts to city services, from police and fire to NORD camps and Parks and Parkways.
After weeks of demands from Danatus King, president of the NAACP's New Orleans chapter, Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a meeting to address community concerns about the New Orleans Police Department — specifically racial profiling — last night at First Emmanuel Baptist Church, a mere 2.6 mile drive from Christian Unity Baptist Church, where King simultaneously held a meeting on the same topic.
Like District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, I was able to attend both meetings, but because I'm unable to bend space, I could only attend the beginning of Landrieu's meeting and the end of the NAACP's meeting. The Times-Picayune's Andrew Vanacore and Richard Rainey can therefore provide a fairer, fuller account of both. Same goes for WWL-TV and WVUE.
I do have some pictures, though.
(More after the jump)
The plaintiffs in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) consent decree case today dismissed the argument that a consent decree for the jail would force city government to write a "blank check" to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, the city's main objection to a proposed consent decree for the jail. In contrast, the plaintiffs say in a new court filing, the decree will ensure that the city actually knows what it's spending its money on.
"As opposed to a 'blank check,' the Proposed Consent Judgment is giving the City, perhaps for the first time, a clear idea of how and where funds for OPP will be spent, says the reply, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates.
The plaintiffs argue that the city has thus far chosen to keep blindly funding the prison without demanding better accountability — through the annual budget process or through its party status in Hamilton v. Morial, a lawsuit that resulted in the current per diem rate — even after it had been made aware of the alleged abusive conditions there.
"The City has been formally on notice of deficient conditions at OPP since at least the United States’ 2009 Findings Letter. Since that time, the City has shelled out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to a constitutionally deficient facility, where people continued to be seriously injured and die. The City took no steps to protest, intervene, seek relief or remedy the conditions."
(More after the jump)
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman no longer wants a temporary $5 to $6 increase to the $22 rate the city pays for each Orleans Parish Prison inmate per day. Gusman requested the increase late last year, reopening the federal lawsuit (Hamilton v. Morial, originally opened as Hamilton v. Schiro in 1969) that resulted in the establishment of the per diem structure and, later in 2003, the current rate.
Gusman wanted the increase set only until another lawsuit, Jones v. Gusman, could be settled with a federal consent decree and an agreement on how to pay for the terms of the consent decree. While the funding issue in Jones isn't scheduled for a court hearing until late May, a hearing to determine whether the consent decree is fair and necessary is set for April 1. In today's pleading, the sheriff's office says the March 20 hearing on the per diem adjustment falls too close to the consent decree trial for attorneys to adequately prepare for both cases.
Gusman's requests for additional funding to pay for improvements have run from about $15 million to $23 million above its current general fund allocation of $22 million. City Hall, already struggling with the $50 million-plus costs of the New Orleans Police Department consent decree, has stridently opposed any funding increase for the jail, repeatedly noting Gusman's refusal to disclose budget records (including failing to meet court deadlines for budget information disclosure) along with a number of questionable expenditures. The city has even gone so far as suggesting federal receivership for the sheriff's office.
The U.S. Department of Justice, a plaintiff in Jones, however, argues that the city, which is responsible for the jail under state law, must ensure that it is compliant with the U.S. Constitution regardless of costs.
Orleans Parish residents awoke Sunday morning to a boil-water advisory issued by Mayor Mitch Landrieu after an unexplained drop in water pressure across wide areas of the East Bank of New Orleans, which began around 9 a.m. and lasted a little more than half an hour.
The advisory was for the East Bank only.
Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) officials were still determining the cause of a loss of water pressure at the S&WB Power Plant. Until further notice, East Bank residents were advised to bring water to a full running boil for one minute before consuming it or using it to bathe.
Last October, a similar drop in water pressure led to the city issuing a boil-water advisory for about 24 hours. Before that, the last substantial boil-water advisory had been issued in 2010.
It's Sunday morning. Now go have a mimosa.
The city of New Orleans yesterday filed a pleading in federal court opposing the final approval of the Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decree. While the city is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of inmates in OPP, it says, it objects to being tied to a consent decree while funding remains a question. The court has scheduled a hearing to determine the fairness and necessity of the consent decree for April 1. A hearing on paying for it — how much and who is responsible — is not scheduled until late May.
"...it is respectfully submitted that review of the proposed Consent Decree cannot be cleanly segregated from the funding hearing," reads the filing.
In July, the sheriff's office informed the city that estimated additional costs to bring the jail into compliance could run as much as $45 million in city dollars for the 2013 fiscal year, an increase of about $23 million from its current per prisoner per day general fund allocation. The filing says such and increase would force it to "lay off more than 600 employees or begin furloughing employees for periods in excess of thirty days."
(More after the jump)
The three-word phrase has been tossed around City Hall for more than a year as the user-friendly answer for business owners to have access to all they'll need as they navigate permitting bureaucracy.
It was supposed to roll out by fall 2012, yet it remained to be seen whether it would surface in 2013. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office of cultural economy released a draft of "Permits and Licenses for Cultural Businesses: A Basic Guide" late last year, a sort of prelude to a "one-stop shop." Today, Landrieu announced a website, a beta mobile app, and a physical office opening inside City Hall to function as a "One Stop Shop to improve and streamline the customer experience related to securing permits and licenses." The departments sharing the space include the City Planning Commission, Historic Districts Landmarks Commission, Safety & Permits and Vieux Carre Commission (VCC), and will be moved in "by the end of the week" with a formal ribbon cutting next month. The space is room 7W303 on the seventh floor of City Hall.
From the press release:
This physical site enhances the customer experience by providing an easier, single point of entry for applicants and by improving the review process through cross-departmental collaboration. Permitting and licensing agencies that remain offsite will be able to receive, review, and process applications using a recently introduced enterprise system, and with the benefit of new, updated digital zoning information. The application for other permits and licenses, including occupational licenses and mayoralty permits from the Bureau of Revenue, will also start in the One Stop Shop.
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman appeared before the New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting yesterday. And while the sheriff was predictably tight-lipped with media on the subject of indictments against two former high-ranking employees, he was more than happy to talk about another controversial subject: building a new jail larger than the 1,438 facility the City Council authorized in 2011.
Gusman, who came to the meeting to provide an update Orleans Parish Prison's (OPP) two major FEMA-funded construction projects: a
$74 million $81.5 million warehouse and kitchen building set to open later this year, and a $134 million $145 million intake, administration and housing building, set to open in February 2014. (Correction: The budget figures Gusman quoted to the City Council this week only represented construction, rather than construction and design, costs.) FEMA only pays for one-to-one replacement of what was previously in place. For the purposes of the FEMA dollars that fund it, the latter facility replaces the Templeman III and IV jail buildings and the former Intake Processing Center.
In order to secure the council's approval, Gusman agreed to decommission the jail's other housing units, capping the formerly 7,500-bed jail to 1,438, a move backed by advocates for prisoners' rights and alternatives to incarceration. The jail is currently the subject of a prisoner class-action lawsuit which appears likely to result in a federal consent decree. And its per-inmate per-day funding structure has been called a "perverse incentive" to keep inmates inside as long as possible.
At the meeting, however, Gusman asked council members to consider a new unit — located on publicly owned land between the new kitchen and the new housing facility — to accommodate the jail's medical and mental health needs, with a replacement of the Templeman I and II facilities, which were demolished in 2008. The 1,438 bed building will not be fully equipped to handle acute mental health patients, he said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu predicted last month that he and Sheriff Marlin Gusman would have a falling out over the cost of the proposed federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). It’s time for that fight to happen, and not just because of money.
City Hall and the sheriff’s office have long had a testy relationship, owing largely to the fact that the city must pay a huge chunk of the sheriff’s budget without any say in how the jail is run.
Now the stakes are much higher than money. The feds last year joined a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against Gusman, alleging that he runs a jail so devoid of human decency, safety and security that it is unconstitutional. The pleadings paint a picture of a prison that rivals those of Third World countries. Some examples:
• Since January 2006, at least 39 people have died while in Gusman’s custody. An alarming number were suicides and drug-related.
• Yearly since 2008, independent experts and/or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have concluded that OPP is unsafe, unsanitary, medically unsound, poorly managed — and that’s just the beginning. Gusman denies the reports, saying they are based on “patient reports and inmate accounts.” Duh. Who else would know how bad conditions are? Last year, DOJ joined the SPLC suit to fast track the process of having conditions at the jail declared unconstitutional.
• In 2012, a review panel on prison rape singled out OPP for its “apparent culture of violence” and recommended that OPP “review the quality of the services it provides to victims of sexual assault.”
• Also last year, DOJ wrote in a letter to Gusman, “Despite our findings and repeated attempts to encourage you to meaningfully address numerous problems, the already troubling conditions [at OPP] are deteriorating.” The same letter cites “alarming conditions … [that] persist or have worsened.”
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