Settlement reached in Orleans Parish jail dispute

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

NEWORLEANS-- A settlement over a consent decree regarding conditions at the troubled Orleans Parish jail complex has been reached, according to court records. (Read the consent decree)

The U.S. Justice Department, Sheriff Marlin Gusman,and a group of currentand former inmates represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a motion in federal court this morning seeking approval ofa proposedconsent decree.

But money remains a roadblock. Gusman, the feds, and the SPLC are in a financial tug-of-war with the city, which funds the jail. The three parties today demanded the city release emergency funds for the jail reforms, as well as a consultant's report on jail staffing. They say the reforms can't be made without proper funds.

Months ago Gusman requested nearly $40 million in funding from the city. Mayor Mitch Landrieu called the request absurd and vowed to fight the matter in court.

A court trial over the funding issue is set for April.

The proposed consent decree mandates improvements thatGusman must make to his agency and prison complex.

The agreement outlines 12 areas of reform. They include: 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 practices.

Theproposed consent decree now awaits the approval of U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, who has overseen negotiations in this case.

Under the decree, Gusman will have to make broad changes and implement or tweak numerous policies and procedures.

For example, Gusman must develop policies, as well as a reporting and tracking system, for incidents of use of force on inmates. The Sheriff's office must randomly test a small portion of its staff each year on use of force policies and procedures.

The decree calls for changes regarding internal investigations, staffing, and an inmate grievance process. It also requires improvements concerning mental health assessments and treatment.

The consent decree will be overseen by an independent monitor selected by all the parties in the lawsuit. The agreement requires that monitor to submit bi-yearly compliance reports.

Gusman and the state of his jail facilities have been under federal scrutiny for years.

A U.S. Justice Department investigationreleased in September 2009 foundabevy of violations at the jail and deemedconditions there unconstitutional. The feds found that the Sheriff failed to protect prisoners from harm, failed to provide adequate mental and medical health care, and subjected prisoners to serious risks due to an inadequate overall environment.

Gusman denied many of the claims and negotiations between he and the feds were unsuccessful.

In April 2012, the Justice Department again reiterated their findings. They alsoadded that thelimited language services provided byGusmanwere also in violation of the law.

Also in April, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gusman, alleging widespread violence, substandard health and medical care, among other claims.

The Justice Department joined this civil suit months later and thiscase is now serving as an avenue for the consent decree.

Stay with for updates.


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