Allan Katz and Danae Columbus: Consent decree will eventually improve jail

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Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

That Sheriff Marlin Gusman has entered into a consent agreement with the U.S. Justice Department regarding the governance of Parish Prison is great news for those who have long been advocating for an effective, just and equitable criminal justice system for New Orleans.

The Orleans Parish Prison has not been the same since Hurricane Katrina decimated the OPP campus, but actually since former Sheriff Charles Foti moved on to become Louisiana’s Attorney General.

Foti ran the OPP with an iron fist and often snubbed whoever was mayor or on the City Council regarding money. Foti also operated the largest parish prison in the state, full of inmates from other overcrowded parish prisons and used their per diems to fill out his budget. He also brought in federal prisoners who came with a higher per diem and did an excellent job of attracting federal grants which beefed up his budget even more.

With those additional funds, Foti was able to hire all the staff and consultants he needed and created a number of community based and innovative programs including aquaculture. He brought in LSU Medical Center to provide the best care possible for the inmates. Readers should also know that Allan and Danae worked for Foti for many years while he was Criminal Sheriff.

Foti knew how to build a team. His employees loved him and wanted to do their best every day, in part so they could avoid Foti’s terrible rage and temper. His deputies knew the rules and mostly obeyed them.

Though mayors and council members might not have liked the fact that Foti kept his budget a secret, he was not at their doorstep asking for extra money.

We don’t think being Sheriff has been much fun for Marlin Gusman. He inherited most of Foti’s staff, and he needed time to develop relationships with them and to learn the prison operations. The Council insisted on a closer look at the budget. Public sentiment won the battle for a smaller jail with fewer prisoners and a reduced budget. Hurricane Katrina created a need for almost a complete rebuilding of the OPP campus, which is still underway more than seven years later. Money has been very tight for the Sheriff. . Budget issues and temporary facilities have not been conducive to building the best morale possible. Employees have made human errors. And the consent decree comes with a $40 million price tag that will be difficult to fund.

Now Gusman, and Mayor Landrieu, have the unenviable task of figuring out how to fund the consent agreement with the Justice Department. It is a long-awaited positive step but right now, no one in New Orleans can begin to tell you where the money is going to come from.


The late Governor John McKeithen liked to say, “It’s isn’t your enemies who will destroy you. It’s your friends.”

Never has that been truer than in the case of long-time U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, a lifetime federal employee who found his way into the top job, enjoyed an incredible run of successes and then was done in, not by his enemies, but by his top two assistants who were like members of his family.

Letten and Assistants Sal Perricone and Jan Mann weren’t just colleagues. They were also social friends who partied together, vacationed together and shared their most personal thoughts. Except, as it turned out, Perricone and Mann had a hobby they never mentioned to the boss – the addictive need to use social media to anonymously – they thought – express their frustrations.

Apparently, no one told them or they didn’t believe that in our modern age, there are no secrets and there is no privacy. If you put it on the Internet, you might just as well lease a billboard too and openly share your thoughts with the community.

The ultimate irony is that the friends were undone by Fred Heebe, the owner of the targeted River Burch landfill company, who narrowly missed being named U.S. Attorney himself, except for two women in his life who went public with allegations that he physically abused them. What a web we mortals weave.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.

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