The city of New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Poverty Law Center are scheduled to appear in federal court on Monday for the second of three hearings in a class action suit over unconstitutional conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.
The Lens will live-blog the hearing, which starts at 8:30 a.m.
The first hearing, in April, was held to determine whether a consent decree is necessary and narrowly tailored to the jail’s needs. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk approved the agreement in early June.
Monday’s hearing will focus on Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s budget, which will factor into a third hearing in August to determine who should pay for the consent decree. This week’s hearing was scheduled for June 10, but Africk granted the city’s request for a continuance because, according to the city, the Sheriff’s Office hadn’t yet provided full budget documents.
Two other developments also contributed to the delay. A June 6 report by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General said the sheriff receives more than enough funding to run the jail adequately. The city has added Inspector General employee Dr. Sarah Fontenelle to its witness list for this week’s hearing.
The other wrinkle is a May 23 legal memorandum filed by the Justice Department and the co-plaintiff class, made up of all current and future jail inmates and represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In it, the plaintiffs claim that designs for a 1,438-bed lockup now under construction will not provide adequate medical and mental health care for inmates. The building, approved by the New Orleans City Council in 2011, is supposed to replace all current prison housing facilities.
The city is required by state law to fund the operation of the jail. An earlier consent decree, stemming from another federal lawsuit, requires the city to fund the jail on a per diem — or per inmate, per day — basis. That funding scheme could end as a result of the new consent decree.
Gusman’s attorneys last year estimated that implementation of the consent decree could add as much as $22 million per year to the city’s tab.
The city has resisted the consent decree itself as well as being required to pay for it. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration believes the added costs, along with the costs of a consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department, could force sweeping layoffs.