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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SPLC on jail building closure: "Tragically, this incremental reform occurred only after the abusive conditions at OPP destroyed countless lives"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 9:55 AM

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office last week, today issued the following statement in response to Sheriff Marlin Gusman's decision to close the Orleans Parish Prison's House of Detention:

New Orleans, La. – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) commends Sheriff Marlon Gusman’s decision to close the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) House of Detention today but calls for the Sheriff’s Department to make additional reforms to better protect the community and save taxpayer dollars.

The SPLC brought a federal class action civil rights lawsuit against the Orleans Parish Sheriff earlier this month. The lawsuit charged that Sheriff Gusman’s indifference created brutal and inhumane conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison where prisoners endured rampant violence, multiple sexual assaults and neglect.

“The closure of the House of Detention represents an important first step on the way to real reform in the Orleans Parish Prison,” said Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney of SPLC’s Louisiana office. “Sheriff Gusman took this action in the wake of federal marshals removing their prisoners from his custody about three weeks ago, the Department of Justice investigative tour of OPP that occurred last week, SPLC’s class action lawsuit also filed last week, and the scathing report on OPP issued yesterday by the federal Review Panel on Prison Rape.”

“The Sheriff should be commended for finally recognizing the intolerable and inhumane conditions at OPP,” said Schwartzmann. “Tragically, this incremental reform occurred only after the abusive conditions at OPP destroyed countless lives. Resolving the crisis at OPP will require more than moving people from one jail to another. It’s time to recognize that New Orleans and the Sheriff’s Department invests far too many resources in imprisonment—at the expense of alternatives that could better protect our communities and save taxpayer dollars.”

The federal complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana describes a facility where violence and wide-spread contraband are the norm, and details the abusive treatment endured by prisoners with mental illness, including denial of mental health services that leave the prisoners extremely vulnerable to physical attacks. It also noted the facility is understaffed and that deputies are poorly trained and supervised – often complicit in the abuses suffered by the prisoners.

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