Orleans sheriff says scope of consent decree expanding

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 20, 2012 at 5:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 20 at 6:23 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -  The U.S. Department of Justice has a accused Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman of failing to seriously negotiate a consent decree.
   
The document would guide court mandated reforms at the parish prison.

The sprawling complex in Mid-City has been in the federal cross hairs for for years.

During recent inspections investigators found inadequate staffing levels, widespread violence and substandard mental health care at the prison.

Wednesday, Gusman told Eyewitness News the potential consent decree has grown in scope in recent months.

"That consent decree went from a memorandum, a 14-page memorandum, to now it's a 44-page consent decree," said Gusman.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says federal findings at the jail are no exaggeration.

The center recently filed suit asking a federal judge to hold a hearing about the conditions at OPP.

"I think in recent months we've really seen things hit a crisis level in there and they remain at a crisis level," said SPLC Managing Attorney Katie Schwartzmann.

Schwartzmann says her office gets calls everyday from prisoners alleging abuse by other prisoners or prison guards.

"We would just encourage the sheriff to step back and really take a serious hard look at what actually is happening in there and take the negotiation process seriously."

"We've been looking at that, working with them to try to do what's best for the sheriff's office and what's best for the city," said Gusman. "Those discussions are on going and we'll have to see what happens."

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it would like to see a consent decree in place sooner, rather that later.

"The consent decree cannot come a moment too soon for our clients," said Schwartzmann. "The situation is really urgent."

"I don't have a timetable on it," said Gusman.

A hearing on the SPLC's class-action lawsuit is now set for the first week September.

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