Those affected by prison policies hail new Federal Court order

Those affected by prison policies hail new federal court order

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Those who have been seeking reforms at Orleans Parish Prison for years are welcoming the new federal oversight. They say too many people have fallen victim to a jail in chaos, and they are hoping the new framework brings change.

One woman who especially welcomes the change sits clutching all that she has left of the man she was supposed to marry.

"If I had known he was there, I would have gone and sat in the waiting room. We didn't know he was there," Donna Gauthier said.

Five years ago, Gauthier's fiance, former Coast Guardsman William Goetzee, took his own life in Orleans Parish Prison. He had been there for six days, and a court found he got little-to-no supervision.

"We're still waiting for a call from the sheriff's office to tell us he died," said Gauthier.

Now she  and others are praising a decision by Judge Lance Africk that will put a compliance director over the operations of the city's jail.

"This has been an ongoing process," said prison reform advocate Norris Henderson.

A 21-page agreement calls for the compliance director to have final authority over all Orleans Parish jail facilities, with oversight of inmates, jail and medical staff and food service.

"I think by giving [Gusman] the authority to pick the person, they're giving him saving grace," said Henderson.

And those who fought for change don't believe that pay raises for everyone are inevitable, as some have argued.

"I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that more money will be required," said Katie Schwartzman with the MacArthur foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

A job description put out by the justice department, calls for a salary of up to $200,000 a year, for a candidate who has a master's degree in corrections, and experience in operating a large jail.

"It's our hope that we can have some recommendations on candidates in a month and a half," Schwartzman said.

The compliance director will be responsible for developing and implementing strategies for compliance with a consent judgment designed to make the prison safe.

"It's too late for us. I can't bring Bill back. It's for the next family," Gauthier said.

The compliance director will will hold quarterly meetings to update the public on progress being made in a jail often described as one of the country's most dangerous.

The court's goal is to bring about substantial change in one year. The agreement allows the sheriff to file for termination of the compliance director within nine months of his or her hiring if progress has been made - but the court will have the final say.

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