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Jailhouse lock

Gusman seeks 60 percent 'fixed' budget hike

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  Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman last week proposed a 2013 budget allocation he said would put an end to the "per diem" budget system, which has been criticized as an incentive to keep arrestees locked up in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) for unnecessarily long stays. City officials, however, balked at Gusman's request, a 60 percent increase over what Mayor Mitch Landrieu has offered for 2013.

  Many in and out of city government favor a "fixed budget" for Gusman's office in the form of monthly allocations not tied to a prisoner count. Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the city would be fine with a fixed allocation of $22.4 million, its current offer, which is a minor decrease from the $22.9 million allocation Gusman received this year. Gusman, however, said he needs $37 million.

  The city projects $491 million in 2013 revenues, $5 million less than what it projected for 2012, and city officials are looking at an additional $7 million expense to fund the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) proposed consent decree.

  Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Katie Schwartzmann, speaking at last week's meeting, asked council members to consider the budget carefully and think about what the city already has gotten for its tax dollars. Schwartzmann is part of a class-action lawsuit against the sheriff's office, alleging inhumane conditions at the jail. The federal government has joined that lawsuit, and the parties are negotiating a consent decree for OPP.

  "The prison is in fact out of control," Schwartzmann 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."

— Charles Maldonado

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