Live blog: Hearing to determine cost of OPP consent decree, who should pay for it

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Brining Orleans Parish Prison into line with the U.S. Constitution is more than a matter of bricks and mortar.

This week, lawyers for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, the city of New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center are in federal court for another hearing on a consent decree to reform Orleans Parish Prison, which U.S. District Judge Lance Africk has called “an indelible stain on the community.”

The purpose of the hearing is to determine how much it will initially cost to implement the consent decree and who will pay for it. Expected in court along with Sheriff Marlin Gusman and his staff are Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several medical and corrections experts.

Tuesday’s hearing starts at 8:30 a.m.; I’ll live-blog it here.

Gusman’s attorneys have estimated that the consent decree could add $22 million per year to the to the cost of running the jail. Under state law, the city is required to fund the operation of the jail.

However, a report done on behalf of the city put the annual cost at “no more than $7 million” for 2014.

In a hearing two weeks ago, Gusman’s budget was treated to close inspection by the city’s attorneys, who were determined to show that the jail’s conditions are the result of the sheriff’s misspending, not a lack of funding by the city. City attorney Harry Rosenberg noted several inconsistencies between Sheriff’s Office audits and its internal financial statements.

Rosenberg also revealed that Albert “Joey” Richard, Gusman’s auditor and one of his key witnesses in that hearing, has served as the sheriff’s campaign treasurer for years. That prompted New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux to file a complaint against Richard for a conflict of interest in these audits.

Another hearing set for Sept. 30 will determine future costs of the consent decree in light of a new $145 million jail facility scheduled to open next year.

In an effort to avoid paying for the consent decree, the city appealed Africk’s original judgment last week. Though that appeal could delay or ultimately obviate the implementation of the consent decree, the hearing before Africk apparently will proceed as planned.

Live blog, Tuesday

Highlights:

  • All parties agreed that staffing will be the major cost driver of the consent decree – for security, administration, and medical and mental health care.
  • David Parrish, a longtime jail warden in the Tampa Bay area, estimated that properly staffing the current facility would cost an additional $11.1 million annually at the current pay rate and $18.5 million if they were paid comparably to other correctional facilities in the region. However, when the new jail opens and some of the older facilities close, he estimated staffing would cost an additional $5.9 million annually at the current pay scale and $9.7 million at the recommended one.
  • Dr. Bruce Gage, a psychiatrist, testified that it would cost $1.8 million to provide adequate mental health care for the current jail population by the end of the year.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated $254 million to the Sheriff’s Office and $67 million to the city for criminal justice facilities. The city does not want to dip into that money. So far, the sheriff has used $200 million, leaving $54 million. The city has used $17 million, leaving $50 million. This money can be used for capital projects that the Justice Department says are needed to make the jail safer. However, it cannot be used for operational expenses like deputy pay.

Live blog, Monday

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