Criminal Justice

Sheriff, council, administration want to change OPP financing

New Orleans officials have been diligently working behind the scenes to end for next year the Orleans Parish Sheriff Office’s longtime per-prisoner budgeting system, and several said publicly this week that they’re optimistic a change is at hand.

But before they can work on the 2013 budget, Sheriff Marlin Gusman said he needs more money to make it through this year, he told City Council members Wednesday.

This is the third year running that the City Council and administration have said they want to change how the Sheriff’s Office is paid for prisoners. The city now pays $22.39 a day for every prisoner being held on local charges. Gusman, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and City Council members have all said they’d prefer to give the Sheriff’s Office a lump sum, as is done with most other agencies financed by the city.

Even before they can begin negotiating what a fair amount would be, though, a federal judge would have to agree to such a change. That’s because the per-prisoner payment system was devised as a result of a federal court agreement that stretches back decades.

The issue was raised again when Councilwoman Susan Guidry convened the third and final combined Criminal Justice and Budget Committee hearings at City Hall.

Gusman provided grim details of his finances for 2012. He said his budget is being strained by higher food costs, repairs on jail buildings owned by the city, maintenance, and pension costs.

Gusman did not specify how much more money he needs. The city budgeted $22.9 million for Gusman this year.

But Gusman is holding fewer prisioners, and as a result, he will get less than that, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said on Wednesday, and Gusman is already feeling the pinch.

In a letter to the council dated Aug. 9, Gusman cited a loss of revenue that came with the departure of all federal inmates and about 500 state Department of Corrections inmates from his facilities.

Gusman is paid a daily rate of $24.39 for state inmates and $43 for federal prisoners.

Such fluctuations make it more important to move beyond the per-prisoner budget, say its critics. Their chief complaint is that the system provides an incentive for Gusman to lock up as many people as possible.

Gusman counters that he’s not responsible for who is brought to his facility.

Guidry has been the driving force behind ending the current financing structure, frequently called the per diem system.

“We’ve all met about this,” she said, insisting the financing system would change for 2013.

Kopplin added that he is “optimistic that we can move away from the per diem to a fixed budget” next year.

Others in the city administration are hedging a bit.

“We largely support moving away from the current per diem structure, which is part of an existing consent decree between the City and the Sheriff and which requires a judge’s order before changes to the per diem system can be made,” Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said recently.

On Wednesday, city Budget Director Cary Grant reiterated Berni’s point about the funding being tied to a federal consent decree.

Guidry told Grant that she was going to “walk hand in hand with him to Federal Court” to get a judge to undo the decree. Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said that she would grab Grant by his other hand and go for the walk, too.

Gusman reminded Guidry that he’s provided a  flat-fee budget to the city in years past. Guidry acknowledged that, but she said they tended to be rather outsized.

* * *

In another development from Wednesday’s budget meeting, Gusman said the city is still not fully funding his electronic monitoring program.

The program offers ankle-bracelets to juvenile offenders and low-risk defendants awaiting trial, as an alternative to incarceration.

A 2010 cooperative-endeavor agreement between the city and Gusman capped his monthly payments at $50,000, or 600,000 a year. But the council provided him with $700,000 this year for the popular if controversial program, and city officials told The Lens in July that it would retroactively amend the agreement to accommodate the additional payments. The agreement runs through 2015.

“We’re working on a revised CEA that will fully allow him to expend the remaining funds,” Kopplin assured the council.

Later in the meeting, Juvenile Court officials told Guidry that an additional $200,000 that the council had previously insisted was earmarked for electronic monitoring, had instead been used to offset a budget shortfall that ended up totaling about $142,000.


Juvenile Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier and the council members said they were all “heartbroken” over an unwelcome development at the proposed new juvenile justice center to replace the Youth Study Center in Gentilly.

The original plan for the building, funded by FEMA, was to include a half-dozen courts, space for the District Attorney, and space for Juvenile Regional Services, a non-profit legal advocate that is essentially the public defender for youth offenders.

Guidry said she had learned that over the past two weeks, Juvenile Regional Services had been informed that it would have to lease space in the new building, and that the space allotted for the agency is greatly diminished.

“There was a concern all along that there wasn’t enough space for all services,” said Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She argued that since the council had to approve the original plans for the new facility, “the new plan has to be approved by the council.”

Guidry said the council agreed to build the new facility on the condition that  Juvenile Regional Services would be there.

Grant  said no decision has been made concerning the space for Juvenile Regional Services, or whether it would have to pay rent.


The New Orleans Police Department also made a budget presentation to the council on Wednesday.

Much of the discussion concerned the federal consent decree that the department has entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas told the committee that he’s facing as much as  $900,000 in annual costs for new personnel mandated under the decree.

Serpas also said he is trying to expedite promotions and raises for his officers.

Hedge-Morrell noted that other consent decrees around the country afforded a pay increase for officers who are “asked to do more,” and warned that officers’ needed to continue to be able to supplement their income with paid details, which the Department of Justice had famously described as the “aorta of corruption” at NOPD.

Hedge-Morrell said she saw a “drastic reduction” in officers’ ability to get paid detail work, and that police officers with families would especially bear the burden. She noted that beat cops in New Orleans are “seriously underpaid given the daily dangers and challenges.”

One of Hedge-Morrell’s sons is a New Orleans police officer.

Serpas said the new paid detail system hammered out with the feds would be more “transparent, certain, and clear” for all officers. He added that it would also be a fairer system because the decree mandates that opportunities for paid details be posted and available to all officers.


The City Attorney’s office was also part of Wednesday’s budget hearing. Most of the questions it faced had to do with traffic-court issues.

Guidry cited a 2011 city Inspector General’s report that criticized Traffic Court for a conviction rate of less than 33 percent.

She said moving violations are routinely knocked down to non-moving violations, but the city lawyers told her that even when they let drivers plead to lower offenses, the fines they paid were the same as if they’d been convicted on the moving violation.

“As a matter of policy we do not plead-down all tickets,” City Attorney Richard Cortizas said.


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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.

  • I. M.

    Millions of FEMA dollars has filtered through the “Cheese Cloth of Corruption”, otherwise known as OPSO. Where is the accountability!!! Marlin “Pseudo Sheriff” Gusman sits before the council, declaring he needs more money, but cannot account for what has been expended. Furthermore, only one of the four reasons he sites for needing more funds, has any legitimacy at all.

    Inmates at OPSO subsist on the same grits, cheese, milk, mystery meats and white bread, they have for ions. Now, with fewer inmates one would expect a correlating reduction in food costs. Building maintenance and repairs are rarely ever done. When/if ever maintenance personnel arrives at a building, they NEVER have the appropriate tools, supplies, parts, etc… Finally, the pension costs (the only credible cause of waist) is absurd. Gusman permits retirees to continue working, while they also collect their full pensions. The D.R.O.P. has become a rite of passage, for useless, defunct and tired, high ranking OPSO officials. Chiefs, Majors, Colonels, Captains all; retire on a Friday, and then report to work on a Monday. They contributions are negligible at best… potentially deleterious at worst (Earl Weaver).

    The council would do well to demand that Marlin “Pseudo Sheriff” Gusman, demonstrate some sort of fiscal responsibility. Require that he reconcile his projections against actual financial performance. If he manages OPSO’s finances as he manages OPSO’s inmates; it’s no wonder he is now and will always be a beggar.

  • OPSO Deputy

    If the city wants to get away from per diem funding that’s fine. However, the city must agree to provide funding that raises deputy pay and benefits equal to NOPD rather than the current $9.69 an hour with benefits not even close to those of NOPD. That would permit the Sheriff to hire and demand more from deputies at all levels in the department.

  • Truth Teller

    I would tell the city council dont’t give Marlin Gusman another dollar, he is a crook whom only hire his friends, he also gives them high paying positions and know that they are not qualified. Gusman takes all the money from his deputies to make his friends feel good in high ranking positions. If he gets rid of all these old Chiefs, Majors and stop stealing to benefit himself then he could have some money. When Foti was in office he had a fish farm and different methods to make his budget work, when you put a Faggot like Marlin Gusman in office who cries about a million dollar buget we know it’s time for a change a New Real Sheriff. Marlin can cut his budget by getting rid of his three secretaries who don’t do anything, get rid of his over paid under qualified Deputy Chief Gerald Ursin, and get rid of the now Col. Melvin Howard whom he just gave a raise to and the many other unqualified friends and his budget can get on track like any other agencies, he need to go watch Newell Normand or another real Sheriff so he can learn how to do his job. That’s just my recommendation.

  • OPSO Deputy

    truth teller,

    Tell us more truth… Where’s the money Gusman is getting going? What makes these former NOPD guys incompetent to run the sheriffs office? What’s up with all these old Chiefs and Majors? Spill it girl!!

  • benelux

    Truth teller….thanks, look forward to hearing more.

  • FU

    Nagin first! YOUR NEXT!!

  • Truth Teller

    Your right Nagin first and Marlin ” crook” Gusman next. The checks are so bad I do 3 details a week just to make ends meet, while his friends get paid over $50,000 salaries to do nothing but kiss his ass all day. They will get Gusman and his unqualified friends. What makes NOPD officers so much better than we are, they are rejects if NOPD didn’t want them why would you. The money Gusman is getting to run his office is going into his accounts as well as his friends. NOPD Officers are not more qualified than we are, they lack the knowledge of the jails, security and protocol on how to handle inmates, there job is to arrest, patrol and keep the city in order, so why would you hire from another agency only to put out more money. They half train them and allow them to come in the department and have high ranking positions instead of giving your deputies who is already here a raise. It’s called politics, lack of leadership, lack of common sense and Abuse Of Power to serve your friends, so now you all know where our money is going and after all that stealing and politicing the department is steal bankrupt and going in the ground. Jim Letten is coming and so will change.

  • FU

    The party’s slowly coming to an end, the party that most were not invited!