The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a proposed consent decree with class plaintiffs and Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) Sheriff Marlin Gusman following a comprehensive investigation and extensive settlement negotiations regarding unlawful conditions at the prison. The consent decree outlines remedial measures to address the allegations in the complaints filed by class plaintiffs and by the United States in Jones v. Gusman, i ncluding deficiencies in prisoner safety from physical and sexual assaults, medical and mental health care, suicide prevention, environmental and life safety and limited English proficiency (LEP) services for Spanish-speaking prisoners.
“Conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison have been dangerous and unacceptable for far too long,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Arrest for a criminal offense should not subject anyone to a sentence of physical and sexual assaults, inadequate medical care, and risks of suicide and mental health decompensation.”
The Justice Department initiated a comprehensive investigation in February 2008, pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 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 September 2009, with an emergency update to its findings in April 2012 after conditions had not improved for inmates. In September 2012, the department intervened in the Jones case, a pattern or practice lawsuit filed on behalf of current and future prisoners by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Today’s agreement comprehensively addresses the deficiencies outlined in the department's findings by specifically targeting the systemic problems that caused the unconstitutional conditions at the jail. The agreement 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.
Tracking of facility data to determine where in the facility dangerous incidents are happening and what can be done to prevent further incidents.
The 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, up until and after the new jail facility is built.
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.
The 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.
With today’s signing of the parties’ proposed consent decree, Sheriff Gusman is committing to implement vast improvements in safety, security, medical and mental health care, sanitation and LEP services at OPP through improved policies and procedures, training, accountability measures and independent monitoring.
The court will determine if the proposed consent decree is fair, adequate, reasonable and necessary, it will then decide the appropriate level and allocation of responsibility for jail funding under the consent judgment as between the sheriff and city of New Orleans, who are both defendants in Jones.
“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. “Our execution of this agreement 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.”