The City of New Orleans formally petitioned the U.S. District Court in New Orleans to place a federal receiver in charge of the Orleans Parish Prison complex and related facilities, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office announced Tuesday evening.
The filing, coming after a week of testimony on the management of the prison and the conditions within, requests Judge Lance Africk's court to appoint a receiver to "control all of the operational and financial aspects" of the jail operation, starting immediately. The motion notes that the city is not requesting the removal of Sheriff Marlin Gusman himself — as an elected official, only the voters can remove him from office.
"The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has been unsuccessful at reforming the jail," said Landrieu in a press release. "It gets clearer every day that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is not keeping the prison secure and our city safe. This is about management, not money. Last week, expert after expert talked about mismanagement and said this was one of the worst run jails in the country. That is why I am asking for receivership so a corrections expert can run the jail in a safe, secure and fiscally responsible way."
Full federal receivership of a law enforcement entity in the United States is almost unheard of, as The Times-Picayune has reported.
Landrieu's administration has been fighting the implementation of a federal consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and Gusman's office, arguing that the cost of the decree — on top of another one between the city and the Justice Department regarding the city's troubled police force — would eviscerate the city's budget, forcing cuts to essential services.
Though Gusman runs the jail, the city is obligated to pay the sheriff's office to run the jail facility and maintain the buildings. Landrieu is arguing the OPSO has been under a consent decree for the past 44 years, including nine under Gusman, and conditions at the prison are a result of Gusman's "lack of management."
"The people of the city are investing over $225 million to build new prison facilities and over $30 million each year in taxpayer money to operate the jail," said Landrieu. "I cannot in good conscience cut vital services or raise taxes to put even more money into the operations of an office where waste, fraud, and abuse run rampant. Despite existing consent decrees, improvements have not been made, and given the latest evidence and testimony, it is essential that a receiver be installed to implement reforms at the jail."