Sheriff Marlin Gusman today presented a budget that he says will end the hated per-diem budget system and has thus provided us all a very easily digestible news lead. If not for the fact that it appears there's no way the city is going to accept Gusman's budget request.
This is why:
Last year, Gusman asked for $34 million, based on a higher per diem rate. He did not get that. He got $22.9 million based on the current city rate of $22.39 per inmate per inmate per day.
This year, he came to City Council with a "fixed budget" offer, monthly allocations from the city general fund that are not directly connected to a prisoner count. No more "perverse incentive." However, Gusman says he needs $37 million to do it, taking into account rising costs for medical care and pharmaceuticals as well new deputies he hopes to hire and pay raises for the deputies he has.
The city — which is projecting $491 million in 2013 revenues, $5 million less than what it had projected for 2012 and is looking at an added $7 million to pay for the New Orleans Police Department's proposed consent decree — is offering him $22.4 million, based on an Orleans Parish Prison average daily count of about 1,950. Note: That's way down from what it used to be. Even last year, before the closure of the House of Detention and the removal of convicted state inmates and federal inmates, OPP averaged more than 3,000 inmates per day.
Back to the funding structure. City government favors a fixed system. And from a pure budget point of view, it doesn't make much difference how the city pays the Sheriff's Office. What matters is what it pays. Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said today that the city would be fine with fixed allocation of $22.4 million.
Also, the thing to understand about OPP's hated per diem budget system is that it's based on a consent decree developed resulting from a 1969 federal class action lawsuit. (Hamilton v. Morial). That agreement can only be changed with permission from federal court, meaning either another lawsuit or an agreement between the city and Gusman. There is a $15 million difference of opinion right now so the latter seems unlikely.
Not to mention the city and the Sheriff's Office have also had some historic disputes about budget transparency, as noted in this 2011 report (PDF) from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux. Or more recently in court.
Nor does it seem likely that the city is going to agree to an expensive change to OPP's structure now, when litigation over another consent decree is pending in federal court. (And money has become an issue in that lawsuit.)
Kopplin, however, said that a new consent decree may result in the end to the current system, but that's likely to linger in court for a while.
Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Katie Schwartzmann, speaking at today's meeting, asked Council to consider the budget carefully and think about what the city's gotten for its tax dollars. Schwartzmann urged Council members to ask thoughtful, thorough questions about Gusman's budget in order to figure out how to fund OPP properly
"The prison is in fact out of control," she said. "This is a jail. It should be a short-term holding facility ... and we don't impose broken bones and rape as a penalty for any crime or as a penalty for being arrested."