The U.S. Department of Justice today released a much-anticipated, proposed consent decree to settle a lawsuit with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office over unconstitutional jail conditions identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Department of Justice.
The civil rights group sued Sheriff Marlin Gusman in April over practices and conditions at the jail. The Department of Justice, which had written two critical letters to Gusman about the jail, joined the suit as a co-plaintiff.
Conspicuous by its absence at Tuesday morning’s news conference was the city of New Orleans, which has been locked in a legal fight with Sheriff Marlin Gusman over funding the jail – and over who is responsible for the alleged unconstitutional conditions.
That question is going to be hashed out in court, as U.S. District Judge Lance Africk has scheduled two separate trials early next year to determine if the jail is an unconstitutional charnel house. He has noted in a prior filing that the city and Gusman should assume that the first trial would end with a ruling that the jail conditions violate the Constitution. A second trial will be held to determine who is responsible for the conditions.
Africk must sign off on the consent decree (which is posted below). It covers use-of-force policies, medical and mental health, sanitation and environmental conditions, fire safety, language assistance, and the treatment of youthful prisoners. (See the document viewer below to view the document.)
The decree calls on Gusman to develop a staffing plan within 90 days of its effective date. It requires that he hire a “professional corrections administrator” — a warden — to analyze and review OPP operations.
It also sets the guidelines for the naming of an independent consent decree monitor.
The provisions weren’t unexpected, as the consent decree negotiations have been grinding on inside and out of federal court for several months, and an earlier court filing contained a rough outline of what would be in the document.
At the news conference, Gusman stopped short of admitting wrongdoing at the jail. “The consent decree speaks for itself,” he said.
Gusman also expressed regret that he wasn’t able to work more closely with the city to work out an agreeable solution to the impasse.
Left unsettled — let alone unmentioned — in the consent decree is the thorny issue of immediate funding that Gusman is asking the city for. The money would go toward addressing staffing and training problems at OPSO.
Gusman has told the city that he needs about $15 million immediately to deal with staffing and training concerns.
The city now provides about $22 million to Gusman, a budget determined using the lamented “per prisoner” funding scheme of $22.39 a day for every prisoner at OPP held on local charges.
Gusman again expressed a desire to end that funding formula, called the “per diem,” during Tuesday’s news conference. The consent decree does not directly address the issue.
After the news conference, The Lens caught up with Mitch Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin at a Super Bowl-related press conference.
Berni reiterated the city’s two-pronged position on the jail: that the city is not writing a “blank check” to Gusman, and it’s not responsible for whatever unconstitutional conditions may exist at the jail.
Kopplin added that while the administration remained supportive of Gusman politically, it wasn’t about to shell out what he said was between $15 million and $17 million to address the elected sheriff’s mismanagement of the facilities under his control.
In their press conference, Roy Austin of the Department of Justice and Gusman both punted on the question of how much funding is immediately required to address staffing and training issues.
Austin implored the city to release a jail-staffing study that he said it had conducted. That study apparently would be used to determine how much more funding is required; Austin and Gusman refused to offer a figure.
Asked about this staffing study, Berni reiterated that the city, under no circumstances, will agree that it bears any responsibility for unconstitutional conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.