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

NEW ORLEANS -- Inmates have long referred to the Orleans Parish House of Detention as the 'House of Pain.'

Friday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, detailing a long list of alleged abuses at the jail in Mid-City.

'Our clients attest that rapes, beatings and stabbings are common place,' said SPLC Managing Attorney Katie Schwartzmann. 'The facility is full of knives. Deputies are rarely on their posts and are unable to respond to emergencies.'

The SPLC filed the suit on behalf of 10 current or former OPP inmates.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman and wardens at the prison are among named defendants in the case.

The filing includes 19 affidavits from mostly current detainees who claim to have experienced abusive conditions in the jail.

The U.S. Marshals Office also expressed concerns about the treatment of inmates before removing federal prisoners from the jail last week.

Now, supporters of the lawsuit are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to order changes at OPP.

'The feds usually tolerate stuff, but it even got to the point where they're starting to remove their people from the jail and I think everybody needs to start doing the same thing,' said Norris Henderson from an outreach group called Voice of the Inmate.

The lawsuit also states mentally ill inmates get sicker the longer they're in OPP.

'This is a public health and public safety crisis,' said Schwartzmann.

The lawsuit comes at a time when Gusman is building a new jail.

But, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a new jail won't fix all of the problems that currently exist in the prison.

'We know there are problems with staffing,' said Schwartzmann. 'We know there are problems with classification. We know there are problems with the facility being full of knives. We're asking that security policies be reformed.'

'The sheriff has one of the largest budgets inside of this city,' said Henderson. 'For the last years, we're just throwing money in an empty hole.'

Numerous calls and email from Eyewitness News to Gusman's office and to his PR representative the Ehrhardt Group were not returned.

Nearly an hour after Channel 4's story aired, Gusman's spokesmen emailed a statement to reporters.

'The Southern Poverty Law Center has not served the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office with the lawsuit filed earlier today,'said the statement. 'The OPSO has addressed the SPLC's specific allegations in recent days, and we will not speculate about what is contained in their complaint.'

'The deputies and staff of the OPSO are working daily to address the care, custody and control of the inmates in our custody,'said the statement, which went on to tout the jail's educational and training programs which the sheriff's office said serve as alternatives to incarceration.

The statement also defended the sheriff's office against the accusations of sexual abuse and poor health care, saying there is a 'zero tolerance policy regarding sexual activity and assault' in the facilities. The sheriff also said that the Orleans Parish prison health care system has been accredited by a national group.

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