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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Judge approves OPP consent decree

Posted By on Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 3:45 PM

5 p.m. Thursday, June 6 update: The New Orleans Inspector General's office issued a report saying the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) is "adequately funded" and recommends that the city "not appropriate funds for the jail unless OPSO provides it with a detailed, functional budget that identifies the specific jail expenditures the revenues support." Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said in a statement, "The root cause is a dysfunctional structure that gives OPSO a blank check that the City must sign, and ensures that neither the City nor OPSO can be held wholly accountable for conditions in the Jail. The Jail will remain as it is until that structure is changed.”

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk approved a federal consent decree this afternoon between the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to address the controversial conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.

The consent decree, to be assessed and overseen by an independent monitor, is welcomed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, though he has repeatedly stressed that his office and the jail are run constitutionally. Gusman instead has claimed that the jail's conditions are due to a lack of funding and leadership from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city. Landrieu's office has objected to the consent decree, which his office argues will cost the city $110 million over five years.

In March, Landrieu held an emergency New Orleans City Council meeting to discuss the city's budgetary problems with managing consent decrees for both the New Orleans Police Department and OPP, and Gusman slammed Landrieu for what he called a "last-ditch attempt" by the city to get out of the consent decree. A week later, following hours of testimony in federal court, Gusman slammed Landrieu for "throwing mud" while addressing controversial tape of inmates gambling, using drugs, and drinking, among other things.

The court's ruling today says OPP's conditions have created a "public health crisis" where “inmates, and particularly inmates with mental health issues, leave the facility more damaged, and perhaps more dangerous, than when they arrived.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's office last year, described violence, mistreatment and lawlessness inside OPP.

“For years, the jail has been too big and out of control,” said Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Louisiana office, in a statement. “Now that the court order is in place, the real work of transforming the jail can begin. We hope that all parties will move quickly to enforce the provisions of the consent decree. We need to get staff in the jail. We need to get people mental health care. ... Reform simply cannot come soon enough.”

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