The New Orleans City Council expressed deep skepticism Thursday about the $62.6 million Sheriff Marlin Gusman has requested from the city to run Orleans Parish Prison in 2015 — an amount more than double the $28 million allocation recommended by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.The issues are these. 1) Gusman is under a federal consent decree to rectify what have been judged shameful, inhumane, and unconstitutional conditions at the prison. That's an expensive problem to solve. How expensive is a matter of disagreement between the city and the sheriff. But nobody asking the questions today seems to know exactly how expensive it should be. 2) Gusman has signed a health services contract "behind closed doors" and that makes everyone reasonably suspicious.
As Gusman watched from the audience of the City Council chamber, leaving an empty seat at the budget presentation table, council members grilled the sheriff’s top deputies about a recently signed contract for inmate health care they assailed as “obscenely” expensive. The five-year deal, awarded to Correct Care Solutions of Nashville, Tennessee, is worth more than $15 million in its first year, a sum city leaders said is hard to stomach.
“Are we doing elective surgery and eyelifts?” Stacy Head, the council president, asked Michael Tidwell, Gusman’s chief corrections deputy. “I expect this is going to be, ultimately, an embarrassing scandal for the city of New Orleans when it’s all said and done — that we are spending this much money for health care when we have as many needs as we do in the city.”
“It’s such a high cost, I question what kind of services (inmates) could possibly be getting to cost this much,” added Head, whose outrage was shared by Councilwoman Susan Guidry. “You could hire a cadre of primary care physicians, a couple of surgeons, a few psychiatrists and keep them on full time, full staff, like the feds do at their prisons, for just a tiny percentage of what this costs.”
Gusman has contended that the medical services contract, which became effective this month, was necessary for his office to have any chance of complying with the medical and mental health care provisions outlined in the federal consent decree he signed with the U.S. Justice Department. City leaders, however, maintain the contract negotiations lacked transparency because Gusman failed to hold public meetings during the selection process.But if we're going to get to the bottom of this, it can't possibly help matters for Stacy Head to make sarcastic jokes about inmates perhaps being treated to better health care than she imagines they deserve. Isn't that kind of mean thinking what got us into this mess in the first place?