NEW ORLEANS -- A U.S. District Court judge will soon appoint a third-party counsel to help figure out the cost of reforms at Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s prison complex.
The move should help usher in a federal consent decree over Gusman’s facilities, which is agreed upon in principle, though delayed due to financial disagreements.
Judge Lance Africk held a telephone conference this morning with attorneys for Gusman, the City of New Orleans, the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The “only remaining issue” is the amount of funding that is needed, according to a court filing Africk issued today.
After months of back-and-forth, the parties have agreed to a lengthy slate of jail reforms, the filing states. “There is also no dispute that the City of New Orleans is responsible for funding those efforts that must be undertaken…”
Africk had issued a deadline of today for the parties to come up with a proposed consent decree. A notice filed Friday night by the Justice Department and SPLC outlined a squabble between Gusman and the City over who would pay for the mandated reforms. Now, the dispute centers on how much the whole thing would cost.
Africk ordered attorneys to appear in court Thursday morning, where a “special master” will be appointed. A special master is an outside party, usually an attorney, who makes sure a judge’s orders are followed.
For years, Gusman and the state of his jail facilities have been under scrutiny. The SPLC filed its federal civil rights lawsuit in April and the Justice Department recently joined the case against Gusman. The case is to serve as a vehicle for an eventual consent decree.
According to court records, the groups have agreed on 12 aspects of prison reform. They include: “provisions on protection from harm from physical and sexual assaults, suicide prevention, mental health care, medical care, sanitation, training, quality assurance/performance improvement, fire and environmental hazard safety, limited English proficiency services, and improved policies, procedures, and monitoring measures.”