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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Court Approves Orleans Parish Prison Reform Plan
Consent Judgment Requires Reform of Unconstitutional Conditions in Prison

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has mandated systemic reform of unconstitutional conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), by entering the proposed consent judgment executed by the United States, class plaintiffs, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman in Jones v. Gusman. The agreement was filed with the court by the parties on Dec. 11, 2012.

The consent judgment requires the sheriff to undertake comprehensive remedial measures to address the deficiencies in prisoner safety from physical and sexual assaults, medical and mental health care, suicide prevention, environmental and life safety and limited English proficiency services for Spanish-speaking prisoners. 

 The Justice Department initiated a comprehensive investigation in February 2008, under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, with the assistance of experts in the fields of corrections, correctional medical and mental health care and environmental safety and sanitation.  The department issued comprehensive findings regarding its investigation in Sept. 2009, with an emergency update to its findings in April 2012 after conditions had not improved, and in some instances had deteriorated.  In September 2012, the department intervened in the Jones case, a class action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of current and future prisoners.

Today’s consent judgment requires:

• Development and implementation of policies, procedures and training regarding all aspects of correctional management, including use of force, investigations of serious incidents, prevention of prison rape and contraband prevention and detection;
• The appointment of a professional jail administrator and other key accountability measures;
• Tracking of facility data to determine where in the facility dangerous incidents are happening and what can be done to prevent further incidents;
• Adequate staffing to ensure that prisoners are safe and tha staff can perform their duties without unreasonable risk of injury;

• Provision of adequate medical and mental health care, including access to necessary medications and treatment, as well as appropriate supervision and intervention for individuals who are or become suicidal;
• Improvements in sanitation and fire safety;
• Ensuring that Spanish-speaking inmates with limited English proficiency have access to Spanish language translations to enable them to access medical and other basic services;
• Appointment of an independent monitor with expertise in the areas covered by this agreement. 

In addition to monitoring of agreement implementation, the independent monitor will periodically inspect the facility for compliance and provide technical assistance to OPP staff regarding how to achieve compliance.

These requirements apply as long as inmates are in the current OPP facilities and will remain in place when the new jail facility is completed and put into use.

The court found that these remedies are fair, adequate, reasonable and minimally necessary to bring OPP conditions up to federal constitutional and statutory requirements.  Additionally, state law-mandated city funding of OPP operations must be adequate to support the ordered remedies.

“The Justice Department is eager to move forward with proactive solutions to the inhumane conditions that have plagued the Orleans Parish Prison,” said Roy L. Austin, Jr. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The court’s order today is another step in our ongoing efforts in the City of New Orleans to promote public safety through a contemporary criminal justice system that meets constitutional standards.  We look forward to working with all the necessary parties to see to it that this goal is achieved.”

The City of New Orleans was joined by the sheriff as defendant to this case on the sole question of the level of funding the city must provide.  The funding dispute between the city and the sheriff is not resolved by this order.

In a hearing on Aug. 5, 2013, the court will determine the appropriate level and allocation of responsibility for OPP funding under the consent judgment between the sheriff and city, who are both defendants in Jones.

This investigation was led by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.  For more information on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt .  

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