Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman. (Charles Maldonado/The Lens)

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that day-to-day control of the New Orleans jail should be handed back to Sheriff Marlin Gusman. The ruling comes after four years during which the elected Gusman was sidelined and a federally appointed “compliance director” ran the jail.

In May, Gusman petitioned the court to terminate the compliance director position, which was created in 2016 after his administration failed to show adequate progress in meeting the provisions of a 2013 federal consent decree, meant to bring the jail — long plagued by violence, staff shortages and inadequate care for inmates — into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.

Gusman agreed to the move at the time as a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice — a plaintiff in the federal consent decree lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office — which had asked that the jail be put under federal receivership. Gary Maynard, the first compliance director, resigned in 2018. Darnley Hodge, who was formerly part of the team appointed to monitor the jail for compliance with the consent decree, has held the position since. 

None of the other parties in the litigation, including the Department of Justice, civil rights attorneys for the inmate plaintiffs, the City of New Orleans, nor Hodge, opposed Gusman’s motion to retake control. 

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk pointed to a recent jail monitor’s report that, for the first time, found that the jail was in at least partial compliance with all 174 mandates contained in the consent decree. Africk called the progress that the jail had made “no small feat.”

But Africk also warned that there was still work to be done. He noted that there were still “significant incidents of violence that need to be addressed,” and that there was lacking medical and mental health care, specifically for women. 

“There are many reasons to be optimistic that the requirements of the Consent Judgment will be achieved, and that continued progress will be made,” Africk wrote. “However, just as in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, we should not deceive ourselves and fail to speak up when we know the truth; there is still fundamental work to be done.”

The ruling will take effect on a date to be determined after consultation with Gusman and Hodge, Africk wrote. 

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to request for comment. 

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...