Criminal Justice

City Hall still using controversial per-diem approach to jail budget

Tom Gogola

Per-diem budgeting is criticized as an incentive for Sheriff Marlin Gusman to keep the Orleans Parish Prison population as high as possible. photo: Tom Gogola

The controversial “per diem” budget for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is alive and well, despite assurances by top city officials that they would come up with a better approach to financing the city jail ahead of the 2013 budgeting season.

Released Monday, the mayor’s budget proposal includes $22,434,338 for the sheriff, a cut of $500,000 from the 2012 allocation.

Ryan Berni, speaking for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the budget is “based on the current per diem of $22.39 per day,” and on an estimated daily average of 1,950 inmates for 2013.

“We feel confident that this is a reasonable amount to budget because the sheriff is running more than $700,000 below the 2012 budget in terms of his invoices, because of lower jail populations than had been predicted,” Berni said, pegging the current jail population at 1,791 inmates.

Berni said the city had no choice but to go with the old budgeting formula, at least for now.

“The Mayor has said consistently that the city is willing to move away from the per-diem approach and give the sheriff a fixed budget instead of a per diem,” Berni said, adding that Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, the city’s chief administrative officer, told the City Council again on Monday that “this offer remains on the table.”

Under the per-diem approach, the sheriff charges the city a per day, per prisoner fee. An alternative is to allocate the sheriff a lump sum as a line item in the city budget and require him to manage expenses accordingly.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry has been the driving force on the council seeking to end the per-diem budget, which was set up under a decades-old consent decree designed, in part, to ensure a constitutionally appropriate prisoner-to-guard ratio at Orleans Parish Prison.

Guidry has called the per-diem budget a “perverse incentive” to lock people up for as long as possible to maximize payments to the sheriff.

Guidry declined to comment for this story.

“Because the council received this information only yesterday, the councilmember and staff are still reviewing the material,” Deborah Langhoff, Guidry’s chief of staff, said.

For now, Berni said, the city’s hands are tied. “Because the per diem was determined in federal court some years ago, it cannot be ended without agreement from the sheriff and approval from the court,” he said.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman is in protracted negotiations over a consent decree proposed by the federal government to remedy unconstitutional conditions at the jail complex. A secondary dispute pits him against the city; Gusman has asked for millions more than his 2012 allocation to begin implementing aspects of the consent decree having to do, in part, with chronic understaffing at the jail.

With the city refusing to write Gusman what it calls a “blank check,” a special master has been appointed to arbitrate the matter.

The delay occurs amid a steady drumbeat of complaints of unconstitutional conditions at the prison.

Gusman was not immediately available for comment.

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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.

  • IM

    Truth Teller????

  • Incorporeal Matter

    The actual I.M. has not beckoned the Truth Teller. Never the less… truth is – OPSO remains severely understaffed. All facilities are besieged by a steady out-migration of experienced commissioned deputies. In a recent instance, there were only THREE (3) deputies, responsible for supervising an entire building containing 390+ inmates. In another instance, entire tents were without any deputy supervision. Transportation department deputies are now routinely assigned to the TENTS. This leaves no one working in the transportation department. Speaking of the tents – the last two escapees; Larry Ard and Rubin Martin, remain at large. Nothing has improved since the “decades old” consent decree. The city’s 2013 budget does not bode well for OPSO. Despite the pandemonium that is OPSO, Marlin “Pseudo Sheriff” Gusman remains jovial as ever.

    It is said that he and his command staff, has already or plan to spend tens of thousands, to “boost morale”. His way is to waste money on useless super bowl trinkets. Every commissioned deputy is to receive a “NOVELTY BADGE”, emblazoned with HIS name. In the midst of benefit reductions, pay cuts, crippling turnover, negative public perception, etc, all he can do is continue his ostentatious aggrandizement! What else could we expect from a “Pseudo Sheriff”!?

  • Truth Teller

    The city is lowering the budget for OPSO is a good move, it’s less money Marlin Gusman can steal to accomodate is personal well being as well as his friends with the high paying salaries, which is taking up most of the budget. The money he is paying his friends could easily allow him to give raises to the deputies that are already here and also give proper training. The department is still understaffed and violence continue no matter what budget is put into place. As long as poor leadership and a person whom is only concerned about himself lining his pockets and making sure his friends do the same nothing will change the situation. Get Marlin Gusman indicted and the right the blank check after he and all of his crew members are gone and let the FBI takeover. Cutting his budget is GREAT cut him off at the knees first then knock the when out of him with that indictment and that will be a good day for the city of NEW ORLEANS CHANGE and then MOVING FORWARD. Leaving him with no check are freedom is a TKO for the city. Don’t give him another dollar it won’t help the department it will cripple it more for him to run it into the ground, the money is not the problem it’s the leader MARLIN GUSMAN. INDICT him that’s JUSTICE.

  • Truth Teller

    Knock the wind out of him and don’t write a blank check that is a TKO…

  • Alison Jonus

    a special master has been appointed to arbitrate the matter…..WHO is this and HOW much is it costing us. I continue to reel at the number of outside consultants we as a city hire …. WHY do we need all these Deputies and Dept Heads when we outsource the actual work?

  • Truth Teller

    The special master is Former Judge Terry Alarcon Section L Criminal District Court.

  • Cristy

    Today would have been my sister’s birthday. Her name was Cayne Miceli and she died January 6, 2009 as a result of the conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. Cayne was a beautiful, healthy, smart woman and she suffered a horrific death. Gusman needs to step down. The atrocities have to stop. A consent decree must be put into effect immediately.,mod=0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&safe=on

  • Truth Teller

    I’m very sorry for your lost and My Prayers go out to you and your family, GOD don’t sleep he will deliver a just outcome to this crisis. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, every life is important no matter who you are and what you have done GOD have the last say.

  • bro. keith ‘x’ hudson

    It’s strange how this newsletter can get funding from the city, and then turn around and try to expose the city for its illegalities. Isn’t that ‘hypocrisy?’ Or is that the name of the new game with you 501 C-3 individuals.

  • Karen Gadbois

    The Lens receives no funding from the city.

  • Truth Teller

    The city is doing an awesome job by holding the funds for a newly elected sheriff, why should the city pay Marlin Gusman twice for the same mistakes. Marlin Gusman has made choices with hirings of his friends from NOPD. NOPD did’t want the rejects why would you, just an example of stupidity. NOPD is ran by the City Of New Orleans, they fired the now second in command of the OPSO Deputy Chief Gerald Ursin whom lied about having a college degree, and have no experience in jail security and make close to 85,000 a year, then the sheriff Marlin Gusman hired another NOPD reject MAJOR/COL. Melvin Howard who currently have a salary of over 65,000 a year, no experience in jail security, but they do have one thing in common it is that they are Marlin Gusmans friends. The city got rid of them from NOPD so they didn’t have to pay them so why should they pay Marlin Gusman for them and this foolishness it’s poor mismanagement. City don’t be fooled by Marlin Gusmans effort to take care of his friends, you all were smart with Nopd please be smarter with Opso and dont fund these crooks. It will be twice the tax payers would have to pay for these two fools, their just robbing the city and tax payers. Remove Gusman and his crew. With just these to salaries alone is enough to give a few raises to qualified hard working deputies and even hire a few, you just do the math. Gusman + Ursin + Howard – Stealing, overpaying, not qualified and the tax payers just get another kick in the a**. Marlin Gusman can’t even explain how much he needs and why. ZERO is a great number for him, leave him with nothing, strip him of his whole budget so he can feel helpless like he make all of his employers and the inmates feel.

  • OPSO Deputy

    Melvin Howard and Marlin Gusman must be the best friends ever to share there girlfriend Stephanie. The Sheriff sure knows how to keep his inner circle happy.

  • To those of you who are “Whistle Blowing” on activities that negatively affect the mission of the Sheriff’s Office, corruption, or even favortism which is provabale; keep it up in a manner that is both professional and responsible. For those of you just spreading gossip and innuendo without any proof, remember your comments not only effect the individual you accuse but it also affects their spouses, children, family, and friends; it’s unprofessional and irresponsible behavior which should prevent you from being in law enforcement in any capacity!!!

  • tfu

    Looks like powers that be may be getting outnumbered??
    And the ones who condon their bs..?

  • Truth Teller