DOJ wants outside party to take over control of Orleans jail

DOJ wants outside party to take over control of Orleans jail

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The U.S. Justice Department and others think it is time someone be brought in to manage the day-to-day operations of Orleans Parish Prison.

There is a new prison, but advocates for prisoners and the DOJ believe problems within OPP remain grave.

"It absolutely is a life or death issue. I think it's terrible, this a really sad for our community," said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center, which represents a class of plaintiffs.

"I do have to agree with that - again, this latest suicide really underscores it," said Susan Guidry, New Orleans City Council member and chair of the Council's Criminal Justice Committee.

A motion was filed Monday jointly by DOJ and the MacArthur Justice Center for contempt against Sheriff Marlin Gusman. It also asks a federal judge overseeing the prison consent decree to appoint a receiver to manage the jail until there has been substantial compliance with the federal consent decree which took effect in 2013.

"What we asked for in the motion is for the court to appoint somebody to have day-to-day administrative authority over the jail, so to make decisions over how to administer policies, procedures, how to logistically run the place and to ensure that that person has the authority to hire and fire people," said Schwartzmann.

She said they are well aware the problems have existed for decades, but expected more progress in improving them under the current sheriff.

"We know that these problems have been going on for years, but there have also been years to fix the problems, and certain very serious issues were not improving, including safety, sanitation issues, other care issues at the jail," she said.

A DOJ press release said:

"Gusman remains dangerously non-compliant with numerous substantive provisions that immediately impact the safety and health of Orleans Parish prisoner."

Those representing inmates said if a receiver is appointed, that person should have authority to hire and fire prison employees.

"To make decisions over how to administer policies, procedures, how to logistically run the place and to ensure that, that person has the authority to hire and fire people," Schwartzmann continued.

Guidry closely follows issues pertaining to the parish prison.

"It's been three years and the Sheriff is at five percent compliance. You almost have to work to be that non-compliant after three years, you know? He's routinely failed to provide necessary information," she said.

Guidry was asked if she sides with those seeking a receiver to manage the prison.

"It's not what my preference would be because I'm sure it's going to be a large cost with the citizens involved with that, and I would most prefer for the sheriff to get things into compliance on his own. But I think it is time for that issue to be resolved, and I support the plaintiffs and the DOJ in bringing to the forefront," she said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office issued a statement in response to the court filing:

"The Justice Department's filing speaks for itself. It is in the best interests of our taxpayers and our public safety that the jail is run competently and constitutionally."

"The detainees and the inmates at the jail continue to suffer violence, and even suicides," said Guidry.

The sheriff's office issued the following statement:

"I vigorously disagree with the Plaintiff's motion. I will aggressively defend the work of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and the progress being made. The Plaintiff's motion contains numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements. We therefore look forward to proving in Court what we shared with the public during our State of the Sheriff's Office Address – that we are making substantial strides towards consent decree compliance. We recognize there is more work to be done but will not allow this move by the Plaintiffs to undermine the accomplishments and sacrifices of the hard working deputies and staff at the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office." 

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