Our Views: Give prison a new start

The most-recent revelations concerning Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s management of parish detention facilities further erodes his credibility as a steward of the public trust.

Gusman has shown that he is either unwilling or unable to manage these facilities properly, which bolsters New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s argument that a federal receiver should be appointed to oversee jail operations.

A recent investigation by The Advocate revealed that in April 2012, Gusman spent at least $213,000 on renovations to the House of Detention — just weeks before he shut down the controversial facility.

Much of the money went to a newly formed construction company with connections to John Sens, the former purchasing director for the Sheriff’s Office, who has since pleaded guilty to unrelated bribery and bid-rigging charges. The firm in question was hired to do the construction work even though the company wasn’t properly licensed to handle the contract. The arrangement raises obvious questions about cronyism within the Sheriff’s Office, and it underscores a much larger pattern of mismanagement on Gusman’s watch.

Numerous expert observers have outlined the appalling conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, which Gusman manages. Landrieu has questioned the terms of a federal consent decree, since it would require the city to spend more money on prison operations. Landrieu contends that the city shouldn’t have to give Gusman’s office more money to improve the prison because he hasn’t adequately managed the prison’s existing resources. The mayor has also called for a federal takeover of the prison. New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux issued a report questioning the prison’s finances. “The Sheriff’s Office gets plenty of money,” Quatrevaux concluded. “The problem is about how the money is managed.”

Clearly, placing more tax dollars under Gusman’s control isn’t a path to reform. A federal receiver to manage the prison is the best option.