NEW ORLEANS -- The U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement on a new consent decree with Sheriff Marlin Gusman over what it calls inhumane conditions at Orleans Parish Prison. (Read the consent decree)
With the agreement comes an unknown cost, likely in the millions, and both Gusman and the U.S. Department of Justice are asking the city to help pick up the tab.
As construction continues on new facilities at OPP, the justice department stepped in to make changes at the existing ones.
“It is no secret that the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has operated under extreme conditions since hurricane Katrina,” Gusman said.
He signed on to the consent decree and agreed to the reforms laid out in it, but would not agree with the assessment that conditions at his jail are inhumane.
“I think the consent decree speaks for itself and I'm gonna leave it at that,” Gusman said.
From staffing levels to the use of force to the documentation of injuries and even to the cleaning of the facilities, the consent decree is a sweeping reform document.
With it comes a bill that Ron Austin, Jr., deputy U.S. assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, largely laid on the city of New Orleans.
“The city has not been meeting this obligation and the prison has been dramatically underfunded for years,” Austin said at a news conference announcing the consent agreement Tuesday.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Press Secretary, Ryan Berni, said there's no proof that inhumane conditions result from a lack of funding.
"We are not prepared to write a blank check. The additional funding being sought by the sheriff would have a crippling effect on the city's operations," Berni said.
“The city has been on notice of the conditions that we have found for some time. And you have to pay for constitutional conditions, whether it's on the streets with your police department or whether it's in the prison with Orleans Parish Prison,” Austin said.
Not only did the feds say the jail needs emergency funding, but Gusman himself said he wants to change the way the city funds him regularly. Right now he gets paid per inmate, per day.
Landrieu supports the idea of getting rid of the per diem payments. As for negotiations with the city over funding for the consent decree, Gusman would only say, “Well, they're not here today. So, they're not as close as I'd like them to be.”
In fact, no one at Tuesday’s press conference would even say how much the OPP consent decree is expected to cost.
The justice department also urged the city to release the results of a study they've done on manpower in the sheriff's office.
The mayor's office said it's an ongoing audit of manpower and money usage in the sheriff's office and that it's being done for the upcoming trial over a lawsuit alleging inhumane conditions at the jail.