Consent agreement reached on Orleans prison - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Consent agreement reached on Orleans prison

New Orleans, La. -

After years of prison deaths, accusations of beatings, and suicides, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to an agreement Tuesday on how to move forward with reforming the Orleans Parish Prison system.

A lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center in April led to the settlement between Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the U.S. Department of Justice.  There has been no decision yet on how to fund the settlement's provisions, however.

Inmate deaths, beatings, suicides and poor medical conditions led to this major announcement about reforming conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, after years of investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

"Within the prison, we found unconstitutional conditions including sexual assaults, inadequate use of force, failure to protect against suicides, and lack of translation services," said Roy Austin with the DOJ.

A consent decree outlining a way to reform the jail was laid out at the prison construction site.  Among the requirements:

  • A review and monitoring of prison operations by a corrections professional;
  • New policies governing the use of force and restraints on prisoners;
  • A staffing plan that includes enough officers to ensure prisoner safety;
  • A ban on teens in adult tiers;
  • New medical and mental health guidelines.

"They are completely dehumanizing conditions.  There's a fight for them every day to stay alive and maintain their humanity," said Meghan Yates with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

This consent decree isn't a done deal -- improving conditions will cost tens of millions of dollars, and the sheriff and the city remain at odds over who's going to pay.

Last October, the sheriff requested about $40 million from the City of New Orleans to pay for the settlement's implementation.  The city funds the jail, but is not a party to the DOJ-OPSO settlement itself.

"Reaching these goals will take funding, not turning heads and looking the other way." said Gusman.

City officials say the sheriff's funding request would have a crippling effect on the city budget. 

Mayor Landrieu told FOX 8, "Obviously the sheriff should treat people appropriately, but to jump to do that and say we need to lay off police and fire to pay for that is not a leap we're going to take right now.'

Sources say the sheriff is between $10 and 15 million shy of what's needed to enact the reforms, a major funding issue that could be decided by a federal judge.

Prison advocates say this agreement is a step in the right direction, but acknowledge its implementation will take a bit longer.

Other aspects of the consent agreement include improvements in sanitation and fire safety, making sure interpreters are available, and the appointment of an independent monitor to make sure the agreement is enforced.

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