NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — As the New Orleans City Council prepares its 2024 budget, the Bureau of Governmental Research has released a report about a longstanding dispute over funding for the Orleans Parish Prison.
According to the report, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office requested an increase in city funding worth $12.4 million in 2022, approximately a 20% rise, to offset chronic underfunding and comply with court-ordered jail reforms. However, the city council rejected the bulk of the request, citing financial transparency and accountability concerns. The sheriff’s office then asked for a $11.7 million tax hike in April 2023, which voters rejected.
Since 2013, the jail has been under a federal consent decree that requires the implementation of several significant reforms. These reforms include increasing staffing levels, providing intensive employee training, and improving medical and mental health care for those in custody. The city allocated $62.7 million to the jail in 2023, the third-largest line item in its General Fund budget, following the police and fire departments.
The report also claims despite efforts, the compliance rate with mandated reforms has steadily decreased from 68% to 46% since the court gave daily operations control back to the previous sheriff in 2020. The city is also facing challenges with the increasing costs of constructing a court-ordered facility for persons in custody who require mental and medical health care. The cost estimate for the Phase III project has more than doubled to $109 million in the last two years.
BGR’s recommendations for the sheriff’s office and the city include the sheriff’s office providing detailed staffing, compensation, and capital plans to support its 2024 funding request and the city committing to funding the jail’s demonstrated needs. They also strongly encourage both parties to collaborate and share information well before the city council budget hearings, scheduled for October 31.
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