Just before Monday’s federal court hearing to determine whether the Orleans Parish Prison is being run in a constitutional manner, the city and the sheriff today stated their cases before the court of public opinion.
At issue is a proposed consent decree between the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice that would bring a set of changes designed to end decades-long patterns of cruelty and violence at the jail. The city is drawn into the fray because it’s legally responsible for paying the sheriff for holding prisoners.
In the morning, at a hastily scheduled City Council presentation that itself may have been slightly less than a legal gathering under state open meetings law, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the council that the sheriff’s consent decree would cost the city $22 million a year for five years.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman said soon after that he had no idea how the mayor came up with that that figure.
Indeed, Landrieu didn’t explain his math to the council. Instead, he described a dire future for city services if he had to pay $22 million a year from the current budget.
Landrieu said the consent decree would force layoffs, furloughs and an assortment of cuts to city services that would undermine public safety instead of enhancing it.
He said he balanced a budget that was in the red when he took office, and isn’t about to let the sheriff upend it without a fight.
For a more complete account of Landrieu’s remarks, please see the live blog from this morning below.
Late this afternoon, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said the $110 million figure over five years came from conversations the administration had with U.S. Department of Justice officials, who, he said, passed along that figure from Gusman’s own attorneys. Berni subsequently offered up a document that he said was from court pleading filed by Gusman’s attorneys that cite the figure of $22.5 million a year.
Soon after Landrieu’s appearance, Gusman said Landrieu’s figures were wildly inflated, but he declined to put a price on required reforms. Further, he said the decree’s terms span a two-year period, not five.
Gusman also took umbrage at Landrieu’s charge that 40 prisoners had died in Gusman’s custody in recent years. As he’s said before, Gusman said that almost all the deaths were from natural causes.
All this comes as the city is trying to get out from the New Orleans Police Department consent decree, which spans five years. The city entered into, and then quickly moved to exit from, a decree that comes with a generally agreed upon price tag of $55 million over five years.
This year it paid about $7 million to begin implementing the decree, from which it is fighting to withdraw.