Criminal Justice

Smaller jail, revamped funding recommended by consultant

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

Mayor Mitch Landrieu may consider paying Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman a flat fee to keep city inmates in his jail, rather than the current daily-rate arrangement which a consultant said only encourages more incarceration.

That same consultant, hired by Landrieu, has also recommended an Orleans Parish jail population of 2,450 by 2020 – sharply lower than the 8,000 projected recently for that year by Gusman.

Landrieu’s Criminal Justice Working Group met this afternoon at City Hall to hear a report by James Austin, a criminal-justice consultant working with the National Institute of Justice. The group is scheduled to make a recommendation to Landrieu on the size of a new jail and how to fund it by Nov. 22.

Austin suggested that the city move away from paying the sheriff per inmate, per day. He said Virginia is the only other place he knows with that arrangement.

“So basically the sheriff has an incentive to incarcerate people,” he said. “I think one of the things that would be very helpful would be to get off that budget structure.

“It doesn’t help if you want to get the jail population down as low as possible.”

Gusman applied to the city for permits for a 5,800-bed jail in April, while a coalition of smaller jail advocates has called for a jail of 850 beds, based on national incarceration averages.

Reducing the jail population to 2,450 would include introducing a pretrial services agency to cut down on city inmates awaiting trial, as well as halving the number of state inmates in the jail from 900 to 450 through a state-sponsored work release program.

“You’re completely off the planet in terms of the use of parish jail facilities to house state prisoners,” Austin said.

City Councilwoman Susan Guidry asked why.

“That’s a money thing…this produces jobs,” Austin said, referring to jobs for sheriff’s deputies.

Gusman introduced his own work-release program 10 months ago, and the Vera Institute of Justice of Louisiana has already secured funding to found the pretrial services agency.

“If the OPP prisoner population was strictly a function of violent or total crimes rates and the same criminal justice policies as exist in East Baton Rouge, Caddo, and Jefferson [parishes], the OPP population would be as low as 722 (Jefferson rates) and as high as 1,426 (Caddo rates),” Austin wrote in his report.

Orleans Parish actually now has a lower crime rate than East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes, Austin said.

Austin presents his report to Landrieu’s working group this afternoon.

But New Orleans has historically incarcerated more people than those parishes, and looks set to continue to do so unless the city changes its policies dramatically.

To that end, Austin also suggested putting together a strategic reform plan to lower the number of jail facilities by 2015.

“Big picture stuff, this system is not growing,” Austin said. “It is going down right now. Can it get lower? It could. But it’s not going to get there by itself. You’ve got to change some policies for that to happen.”

A new jail is likely to take three years to build, once the council approves a conditional-use permit for the building.

Gusman is applying for a permit to build a 1,438-bed intake facility and housing unit, soon, as part of the first phase of his jail rebuild. Austin said there is “no question” that Gusman will be able to fill those beds by 2014. The question then would be which of Gusman’s outdated facilities to demolish first.

Not for the first time, Gusman bristled at the suggestion that the city’s daily rate gives him an incentive to keep more people in jail.

“You seemed to imply that there was an incentive to hold more people,” Gusman said. “If in fact it was the sheriff’s motivation to hold more people, would I have a fast-track release program?”

Austin responded in a placatory tone.

“I didn’t mean to imply, sheriff, that…you and I have good conversations,” Austin said. “The sheriff would love to have the smallest jail possible, but it’s got to be funded right, and it’s got to be safe, and it’s got to be humane.”

During audience questions, law professor Stephen Singer from Loyola University said the daily rate could be driving the city’s criminal justice policy, rather than the city’s criminal-justice policy driving the jail population.

Also during questions, civil-rights attorney Mary Howell pressured the city to change a federal consent decree that defines the city’s daily rate.

“It’s archaic and it’s obsolete,” Howell said.

That prompted support from Vera Institute of Justice of Louisiana director Jon Wool, who said the consent decree could be scrapped as long as the city ended up paying more than $22 per inmate per day with a fixed budget.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer and Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin said he’s more than open to the suggestion.

“I would like nothing better than to have a fixed budget that the sheriff gets to live on, than a flexible budget,” Kopplin told The Lens after the meeting. “And I think you’ll find that the sheriff would like that too.”

Gusman left the meeting without taking questions from reporters.

Two public meetings will be held to listen to public testimony on the proposed new jail next week. The first will be Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at King Charter School, 1617 Caffin Ave. in the Lower 9th Ward. The second will be at a location to be determined on Thursday at 6 p.m.

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.
  • Matt, I really appreciate this article as well as your dogged coverage of this vital issue.
    I would even venture to say that your reporting may have made a difference in the situation as I haven’t seen ANYTHING in the local media at such depth. (Except y’alls partners over at WVEU of course)

    This afternoon, following Lens tweets of these proceedings, I became confused about this consultant and the Mayor’s approach to the problem, but now it is much clearer and even seems to offer hope for sane resolution. I don’t claim to be too quick on the stick, but my take on this was honed by 72 hrs in OPP for a simple misdemeanor. It is a heinous place and Gussman is a wily mfkr who should go before the International War Crimes Tribunal for the way he runs it. But I cannot hold him completely responsible for who brought me (and 1000s of others) there. That would be NOPD, tortuously dysfunctional gang-bangers, to a degree that is really hard to imagine –and this goes back decades. It may have been my own karma that brought me there, but it is there’s to go to Hell for it. Of course I will hold the door for them.

    We didn’t have you or The Lens before the flood.
    Now we do and I’m feeling much better about New Orleans.
    Thanks again.

  • I meant WVUE. I still can’t even mouth the words Fox News. Sorry.

  • menum

    Happy Birthday, Cayne Miceli. We all love you and miss you.

  • Oh my, is today Cayne’s BD?
    This is what we’re talking about, Matt. It ain’t just gang-bangers and lost tourists.
    Gussman has presided over the killing of the BEST of us.
    WHY IS GUSSMAN STILL ON THE JOB???????????????
    Appreciate your coverage now, but I still say you need to get yourself arrested under cover and go through OPP now. I dare you to do this.
    Otherwise you really won’t know what your talking about.

  • menum

    Cayne’s birthday was actually November 4. A true Scorpio, she would have turned 45 years old. Cayne was smarter than most of us, creative, passionate and kind. Her death was more than tragic, it was torture. Had this happened to her in Iran or Korea, we would have an international incident with former presidents and UN committees involved… Unfortunately, she was merely seeking medical attention for her asthma right here in New Orleans.

    We may never, ever know exactly what happened to her because the Orleans Parish Sheriff doesn’t have to tell us. Apparently, he doesn’t have to tell anyone. He doesn’t have to tell anyone what goes on in the jail.

    Gusman doesn’t have to account for his spending, he doesn’t have to account for the conditions in the facility he runs, he doesn’t have to account for the actions of his employees, he doesn’t have to account for anything. It’s like watching the Twilight Zone. He gets slammed by the DOJ for all sorts of things and what has he had to do about that? Who knows if he has done anything? OPP gained accreditation for their medical department from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Go to and read about the process.

    I, for one, would be interested in seeing his vendor list, I would like to see him account for every penny he spends as the Sheriff. Why is he so powerful? What does he have to gain from building this huge jail? How does he continue to get away with murder? Figuratively and literally.