NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans inspector general released a scathing report Wednesday about the electronic monitoring ankle bracelet program run by the Orleans Parish sheriff.
The evaluation found errors in billing, cost overruns and a budget that would leave the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office more than $100,000 in the hole every year.
After problems with the city's first electronic monitoring contractor, a company called TSAP, the city of New Orleans issued two requests for proposals to find another company to run the program.
In 2009, Sheriff Marlin Gusman was the lowest bidder at $9 dollars a day to monitor adults, $12 dollars for juveniles. But the city, under the Nagin Administration, canceled the RFP, instead entering into a no-bid cooperative endeavor agreement in 2010 with Gusman.
The city is now paying the sheriff’s office $13.75 a day for adults and $14.75 for juveniles.
"Costs go up. Not only our costs, but the costs of the monitors as well," said Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.
A recent evaluation of the budget and billing of the program by the New Orleans inspector general found Gusman operating the program under a self-proclaimed deficit.
"We, the sheriff's office, has lost some money on it," Ursin said.
When asked if the sheriff was following the budget that the office turned over to the inspector general for evaluation, whether that would mean the sheriff’s office was taking a more than $100,000 loss every year on the program, Ed Quatrevaux said, “Correct. And apparently there's enough money over there that that's not a concern.”
Quatrevaux's inspectors also found errors in billing related to Hurricane Isaac and problems with who was allowed in the program, thus increasing costs unnecessarily to the city.
The sheriff’s office said they rectified the error and notified the parties involved, namely the monitors of a grant the office secured to expand the program that is administered by the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation.
“There needs to be better fiscal control. There needs to be better accounting of the expenses under this program, and that's the sheriff's responsibility,” Quatrevaux said.
The inspector general also said the city needs to better check the monthly invoices Gusman submits for reimbursement. Much like the jail, Gusman gets paid per offender, per day as a flat fee. Other costs included in his budget would be paid out of that revenue, including costs of things like rent and electricity.
In the budget the sheriff’s office submitted to Quatrevaux, the sheriff’s office included a rent cost that they’re not actually charging the city, but it’s included as an expense. According to Quatrevaux, the sheriff’s office said they calculated 12 years’ worth of rent in their submitted budget, not twelve months’ worth.
It’s an error the sheriff’s office admitted to.
Plus, Quatrevaux found judges were sentencing inmates to the program after they had been convicted. At that point, the state of Louisiana should be paying for them.
“We also found out that the city paid $65,000 for the state of Louisiana's detainees to be in this program. They have no business in this program. This is a city program,” Quatrevaux said.
Ursin said they had little discretion in deciding who was placed in the program, because everyone was sent to them through a court order.
"We have a court order. If a judge orders me to put somebody on the program, I don't think I have any latitude on that," Ursin said.
After several meetings with the criminal court judges, they have stopped the practice of putting post-sentencing inmates in the program.
The Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between the sheriff’s office and the city of New Orleans spells out how the program is supposed to be run.
In fact, it requires Gusman to have seven deputies assigned to the electronic monitoring program full-time. Despite that requirement, the sheriff’s office has four full-time deputies working on the program.
Ursin did say they had part-time support staff working on it as well.
However, Quatrevaux found the sheriff’s office was using overtime to pay existing deputies instead of hiring additional personnel.
“There's no need for overtime in a program like this. We calculated that with that $100,000 in overtime, the sheriff could hire two more deputies to work in the program,” Quatrevaux said.
That calculation included benefits, but the sheriff’s office disputes the potential cost savings saying in a statement Wednesday afternoon that they “support the use of overtime because a switch to 24-hour coverage would be more costly and would require negotiations with the city of New Orleans for additional funds.”
Now, the inspector general will turn its attention to part two of his evaluation: whether the program is doing what it's intended to.
The sheriff’s office said Wednesday that they feel it does and that it saves the city money on housing the prisoners in jail.
“It saves the city, just on the adult pre-trial offenders, just over $620,000 in 2013,” Ursin said.
The latest cooperative endeavor agreement between the city and the sheriff expired at the end of December 2013. The sheriff's office is continuing to operate the program, while waiting for the city to send a new agreement.
Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Jerry Sneed wasn’t made available for an interview about the report, but said in a prepared statement that electronic monitoring is an important tool to provide an alternative to incarceration and that, “In coordination with OPSO, the city has conducted a thorough assessment of its invoice review process and instituted reforms to better verify billing accuracy and increase program transparency so that only eligible defendants are served."