The City of New Orleans is urging a federal judge to reject a proposed consent decree to reform Orleans Parish Prison.
In a 28-page pleading filed in federal court Thursday, the city argues that the reform proposal would be financially crippling, amounting to a blank check to a sheriff's office that keeps most of its finances secret.
The city warned that if the consent measure is approved, the city would be forced to take drastic measures that could in include layoffs, tax increases and reduction of vital services.
“Simply put, it would be a derogation of the City’s and its administration’s obligations to the people of New Orleans to dole out more money to the Sheriff at his whim,” the motion states.
They city pegs the price tag of the Department of Justice-mandated reforms at $15-$20 million over several years. Despite those estimates, the city maintains it has been left in the dark by Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the DOJ about the possible price tag.
“Despite numerous requests by the City, the SPLC, Civil Rights Division and Sheriff have all declined to inform the City as to the potential costs of the proposed Consent Decree,” the motion states. “Presumably that is because the SPLC, the Civil Rights Division and Sheriff have no idea what the Consent Decree will cost.”
The consent document was hammered out by the sheriff and federal officials after the DOJ’s civil rights division found a host of deficiencies at the 2,000-inmate prison, including violence by both guards and inmates, unchecked sexual assaults, substandard medical care, lack of suicide prevention and mental health care and poor sanitation.
A lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center in April 2012 prompted the current version of the proposed consent decree. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk issued preliminary approval in January, but the city quickly intervened with its objections.
In its recent motion, the city claims it has been shut out of the reform process.
“The Sheriff has made clear to the City, throughout this lawsuit and even before, that he believes that he has the right to operate OPP however he sees fit with little or no input or oversight from the entity that provides him his funding, the City,” the motion states.
The city also seized on the federal charges filed earlier this week against two former high-ranking Sheriff’s Office officials, both accused of taking bribes from contractors in an elaborate bid-rigging scheme. Both men – former Purchasing Manager John Sens and ex-maintenance chief Gerard Hoffman Jr. – have been cooperating with federal authorities and have indicated they will plead guilty.
The bribery charges “causes the public to question if the Sheriff and his remaining staff should be given carte blanche with City funds,” the city argued.
The next major court proceeding in the case is a fairness hearing set for April 1.