Criminal Justice
 

City still awaiting expert report on criminal-justice financing

The amount budgeted by the city for the Sheriff's Office has been dropping slightly, standing at $22.7 million for the current year. This graphic was taken from the city's budget book.

Update: Gusman takes responsibility for at least some of the delay. Additions to the original story marked below.

A financial expert hired by the city to report on the controversial method the city uses to pay the sheriff’s office appears to have missed its early June deadline.

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin wrote a May 21 email to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, pushing the sheriff to provide critical information so The PFM Group could meet its fast-approaching deadline.

“In order to use PFM’s work as part of the 2013 budget process, we have asked that they provide a draft report by early June,” Kopplin wrote.

The email was provided to The Lens under a public-records request; likewise The Lens asked for a copy of the PFM report this week, in either draft or final version.

“PFM has not yet completed its report,” Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, wrote in a brief email.

When The Lens asked Berni by email whether a draft report existed, he did not respond. Under the state’s open-records law, draft reports are open to public inspection.

The PFM report, which will look at the overall criminal-justice system, may well offer alternatives to the city’s method of paying Gusman a set daily rate for every prisoner he holds.

Critics say the system encourages the sheriff to keep people locked up for as long as possible so he can make as much money as possible. Gusman has said repeatedly that he doesn’t control who gets sent to him or when judges order the release of inmates.

Gusman and city officials have said they’d like to move away from that financing method and instead give the sheriff a set amount each year.

The city currently pays the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office $22.39 a day for each inmate.

In his email, Kopplin asked Gusman to “provide all the data pursuant to [PFM’s] request no later than the close of business day” on May 23.

Gusman, the emails indicate, had already been working with PFM before Kopplin urged him to complete his work in two days.

The Lens’ public records request, which sought any correspondence between Kopplin and Gusman relating to the 2013 budget for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, did not yield any emails from Gusman that were responsive to Kopplin’s request.

Update: Gusman responds during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

A spokesman for Gusman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the sheriff responded or provided the information.

Gusman took ownership for the delay during a news conference Wednesday afternoon about hurricane preparedness.

“The PFM Group met with us four to six weeks ago,” he said. “We owe them information.”

Gusman indicated that a recent loss of personnel contributed to the delay. “We’ve been going through a lot of changes around here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city is noncommital regarding the shift away from the daily rate.

“We largely support moving away from the current per diem structure,” Berni wrote in a statement.

Officials in the administration and on the City Council have been discussing such a change for two years.

Reached on his cellphone, PFM Project Manager David Eichenthal declined to comment on the status of his company’s report.

“You should really talk to the folks in the mayor’s press office,” he said.

Eichenthal appeared before the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee April 25, offering a general framework for how his company’s report would provide budget transparency and suggestions for efficiency in criminal-justice spending.

The scope of work was to include not just the Sheriff’s Office, but also police, courts,  the District Attorney’s Office, and the public defender.

A handout from that meeting said PFM would

  • Identify the income and spending for each agency;
  • Suggest ways in which the system could become more efficient; and
  • Proposed performance measures to judge success of any changes.

The Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to meet next on June 27.

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.