Covering Louisiana

Oct 17, 2012 5:15 PM by AP

City: Sheriff requesting $40M for jail reforms

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The city of New Orleans is balking at meeting Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's request for nearly $40 million to pay for a series of court-supervised jail reforms.

In a court filing Wednesday, city attorneys say the amount would have a crippling effect on the city's operations. They warned that dozens of city employees, including police officers and firefighters, would have to be furloughed for the rest of the year if Gusman gets the $38 million to $39 million he is requesting.

"The safety of the citizens of New Orleans should not be jeopardized by the payment of unsubstantiated amounts to the sheriff when the sheriff simply may need to use his current funding more effectively," city attorneys wrote.

A spokesman and a lawyer for Gusman's office didn't immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The Justice Department and sheriff's office are negotiating a settlement designed to improve conditions at the city's only jail.

Although both sides have agreed on the substantive terms of a proposed settlement, they haven't been able to compromise on the amount of funding that the city should pay to begin implementing the reforms.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who is overseeing the negotiations, has suggested appointing retired state judge Terry Alarcon to serve as a special master and review the funding issue.

In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing jail officials of routinely subjecting prisoners to brutal, inhumane conditions. Later that month, the Justice Department said it found "alarming conditions" during an inspection of the jail and uncovered persistently high rates of prisoner-on-prisoner violence and staff misconduct.

The city, however, says there is no proof that a lack of funding is responsible for any unconstitutional conditions at the jail.

"These statements are pure speculation at this point," city attorneys wrote.

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