City looks at ways to reduce prison population

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 25 at 6:41 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

The New Orleans City Council is trying to balance yet another tight city budget for next year. One of the big ticket items in the more than $500 million spending proposal is the sheriff's office.

The department runs the parish prison and maintains court security.

The Landrieu administration's proposed spending plan allocates more than $36 million for the OPSO.

Friday, the city's jail consultant, Dr. James Austin, told council members a federal consent decree ordering sweeping changes at the jail will drive up costs at OPP.

"If there is no change in what you do, you're going to have to construct another large jail," said Austin.

The consultant recommended the city look at ways to reduce the number of inmates at the jail. The incarceration rate in New Orleans at 450 per 100,000 is more than twice the national average.

City Councilmember Susan Guidry says police officers may need to show more restraint in who they arrest and take to jail.

"I get the impression that probably what we're doing is making arrests where not even a summons is necessary," said Guidry.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman says there are reasons why OPP inmates stay in jail longer than prisoners in other parishes.

"It seems that more of them are going to trial," said Gusman. "They're opting to have a trial. We're also seeing that more of them are being arrested on felony charges."

This was Gusman's first appearance before the City Council since the sheriff reached an agreement on those court ordered reforms.

For its part, the city has agreed to put up close to $2 million this year to pay for extra security and medical personnel and to raise the base salary for staff at parish prison.

Gusman is expected to appear before the budget committee at least two more times as council members crunch the numbers.

By law they must approve a balance budget by Dec. 1.

 

 

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