NEW ORLEANS -- A settlement has been reached between the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office on the federal consent decree regarding the Orleans Parish Prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Lance Afrik held a hearing Thursday to look at the funding of federally-mandated changes at Orleans Parish Prison. The hearing lasted about 30-minutes without much debate, and both sides said they did reach a settlement and were looking to move forward on the consent decree. (See agreement)
'We're pleased that the Sheriff's Office is making significant progress with this agreement,' said Sheriff Marlin Gusman. 'This partial agreement serves as the framework for substantial compliance with the consent agreement.'
Mayor MitchLandrieu also said that the settlement was promising, and the issue a 'work in progress.'
The settlement addresses staffing issues and salaries at the Orleans Parish Prison, and Judge Afrik says that violence and supervision of inmates at the prison is a major concern.
The agreement will allot a substantial amount of money for the Sheriff's Office to hire more staff at the prison, such as a grievance counselor, a compliance officer, and more senior staff for the jail.
The settlement calls for a compliance coordinator, human resource director and grievance coordinator.
The city will pay $100,000 this fiscal year to cover the new positions. The city will have to pay another $70,000 for computer equipment.
The settlement is also said to address the issue of inadequate medical care.
Lawyers for the sheriff's office say they want to see both sides work together more often outside of the courtroom, and lawyers for the City of New Orleans agree, saying Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to bring people together and the ultimate goal is to save taxpayers money.
A monitor who was chosen to oversee reforms at Orleans Parish Prison says the jail still has a long way to go to meet the demands of the federal consent decree.
There have been numerous problems cited at OPP in the past, from conditions of the jail, such as mold and mildew on walls or human waste left in cells for large amounts of time, to lack of inmate care. An attorney for the Justice Department told a federal judge that inmate grievances have gone unanswered, tiers remain unsupervised and conditions are unsanitary. Court records also state the jail is an unsafe place where, 'people continue to be stabbed, beaten and are suffering from a lack of mental health care.'
In the last month, an inmate died after an alleged heart attack. Witnesses say the man had been telling deputies he was having chest pains, but help wasn't called for the inmate until after an hour later.
The consent decree issued within the last year, is the court's order to bring the prison back up to constitutional standards.
One of the issues originally brought up in the consent decree is staffing, and court records have shown that at times, one deputy will guard as many as ninety inmates at one time.
Gusman was told he needs to hire as many as 500 additional employees to help run the facility.
Katie Schwartzmann with the MacArthur Justice Center says, 'The staffing issues at the Sheriff's Office do make it difficult for deputies to respond when there is a crisis. Our clients will tell us they have to bang on the door, scream and yell for prolonged periods of time to get a deputy's attention to get somebody to enter the tier if there's a fight or if there's a medical emergency.'
The first report from federal monitors in February did give the Sheriff's Office credit for making some progress, but they also found the Sheriff's Office largely non-compliant with their requests.
A May court date will now be set, to lay out what exact changes must be made to the Orleans Parish Prison system, as well as a time limit in which those changes should be made.
'We've made a significant step today,' Gusman said. 'On behalf of the Sheriff's Office, I'd like to thank the court and the monitor for their guidance; and I'd also like to thank the City for their good faith in these negotiations.'