Prison, jail receiverships have happened before in the U.S.

Prison, jail receiverships have happened before in the U.S

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman waits to see if a federal judge will appoint a "receiver" to take over day-to-day management of the Orealns prison, experts said there is precedent for such receiverships.

"It is unusual but there is certainly a lot of prior practice in that area," said Andrea Armstrong, an associate professor in Loyola's School of Law who focuses heavily on prisons and how they intersect with the U.S. Constitution.

Gusman said he disagrees with the motion filed with the court and that he will aggressively defend the progress the prison is making in terms of the federal consent decree.

But some think a receivership may be granted.

"I think it is going to be highly unlikely that the sheriff is going to be successful in opposing the receivership that has been requested," said Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Armstrong was asked whether such receiverships generally accomplish what they intend.

"I think those things are hard to measure, so these systems that I'm familiar with that have been in receiverships they are still in receivership," she said.

The Department of Justice said there are currently 12 prison and jail consent decrees in place. However, there are no other state or local prisons that have court-appointed receivers as part of a DOJ consent decree.

Still, there may be receivers in place as a result of other litigation that the DOJ is not a party to. In California, a receiver was appointed to oversee the health care system for the state prisons.

In the 1970s, Alabama prisons were put under federal receivership for years.  A spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections said Tuesday that receivership has since expired.

In 2011, the DOJ asked that a receiver be appointed for an adult correctional facility in the U.S. Territory of the Virgin Islands. DOJ said it ultimately negotiated a settlement and a receiver was not appointed.

"The courts just don't apply them willy-nilly," said Armstrong.

And Goyeneche believes if the sheriff shows a willingness to go along with the idea of a receiver, it could be better for him in the long run in terms of retaining some control.

"If the sheriff opposes every aspect of this, I think that he might very well be on the outside looking in, the receiver could be in full control and the sheriff would play a minor role, a lesser role than if he worked with the Department of Justice in constructing a receivership that would allow him to have more access to taking over parts of sheriff's operations as the receiver put them in compliance."

Goyeneche believes receivership is on the table now because of the ongoing money battles the sheriff has with City Hall. He said retention of prison employers remains a serious problem.

"You get what you pay for, and I think that when a receiver is put in charge of this jail one of the first orders of business is going to be to address the pay structure of deputies in the sheriff's office and that ultimately is going to be an expense that is borne by the City of New Orleans," Goyeneche said.

"The city in 2013 requested a federal receivership and it was denied because, in part, they were basing their request based upon the consent decree materials, but it's something that has happened in Virginia, California, in D.C. jails, it's happened with state authorities, local jails…it is unusual, but there certainly is prior practice in that area," said Armstrong.

Goyeneche said even if a receiver is brought in to run the jail, the sheriff has other responsibilities that lie outside the prison, including providing security for Orleans Parish Criminal and Civil Court.

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