NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge granted preliminary approval Tuesday of a consent decree over Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's troubled prison complex.
The judge's approval is a step towards implementing a number of mandated reforms to Gusman's office and jail facilities.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice, Gusman, and a group of current and former inmates represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center reached a settlement on the issue.
But the matter is far from over. The city of New Orleans, which funds the jail, has objected to the settlement and is embroiled in a financial tug-of-war with Gusman.
A court trial over the funding matter is set for April. And U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who gave preliminary approval of the decree Tuesday, has set a fairness hearing for April 1. He'll hear testimony on the issues and later weigh whether to give his final stamp of approval on the proposed consent decree.
The decree 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.
If the decree is approved, Gusman will have to make significant changes and implement or tweak many of his 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 also calls for changes regarding internal investigations, staffing, and an inmate grievance process. It also improvements concerning mental health assessments and treatment.
Once approved, the parties involved in the lawsuit will select an independent monitor to report on and analyze the Sheriff's progress. The agreement requires the monitor to submit bi-yearly compliance reports.