There is an agreement in place for a federal consent decree over Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s prison complex, but the negotiations are at an impasse, with the city and Gusman fighting over funding.
In a notice filed Friday night in federal court, the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty law center outline the squabble, and claim immediate reforms are needed in light of several instances of recent jail violence.
A U.S. District Court Judge had set a deadline of Monday for Gusman, the city of New Orleans, the Justice Department and the SPLC to come up with a proposed consent decree.
But that’s not happening, according to the notice filed Friday night. The plaintiffs – the SPLC and the Justice Department – are asking the judge to schedule a hearing to iron out the matter.
At issue is the interim amount of money needed right now, “to address currently deficient conditions and begin implementing” the settlement, the court filing states.
This interim funding would only be needed until a jail staffing analysis is done and a final budget is determined. Then, “any discrepancies between the temporary and updated budget would be reconciled through a payment to or from the City.”
The plaintiffs suggested the sides reach a compromise amount or let the judge decide. But still, Gusman and the city are at an impasse, according to the court filing.
The SPLC and the feds underscore the need for an immediate remedy.
“During the past seven days, the Plaintiffs have received complaints related to staff-on-
prisoner violence, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, inadequate prisoner supervision, and
complaints of knives and weapons throughout the facility."
They also highlighted several reported stabbings and an alleged rape. One 70-year-old inmate had his head split open.
The attorneys also noted instances of suicidal inmates eating tile and cleaning chemicals because “they are not receiving medicine.”
The court filing notes that the parties have agreed on “substantive provisions” that should be in the consent decree.
That includes 12 aspects of reform: “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.”
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.
Gusman argued, however, the city should be on the hook for funding the reforms and the city was added late last month to the lawsuit.
Gusman’s attorneys claimed that a settlement couldn’t come without City funding. The two agencies have sparred for decades over this issue.
An old consent decree between the two mandated that the sheriff from 1990 through 2002 receive $19.65 per inmate, per day from the city. Through the years, costs, and prison population rose. That rate eventually increased to the current $22.39. The city also pays $3.2 million each year for medical expenses and services.
“Despite repeated requests by the Sheriff to Council members and the Mayor over the last seven years, there has been no increase in funding by the City,” Gusman’s attorneys wrote in a recent filing.