Covering Louisiana

Dec 11, 2012 12:07 PM by AP

Settlement outlines New Orleans jail reforms

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Justice Department and the sheriff who runs New Orleans' troubled jail have agreed on a series of court-supervised reforms designed to improve conditions.

The settlement agreement announced Tuesday calls for Sheriff Marlin Gusman to implement a series of reforms, including providing adequate medical and mental health care and overhauling policies governing use of force and rape prevention.

Funding remains an obstacle in implementing the consent decree. City officials said in October that Gusman's request for nearly $40 million would have a crippling effect on the city's operations.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk has overseen the settlement negotiations and would have to approve the agreement.

Last April, 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.

In a letter to Gusman that month, a department official said the jail is a "violent and dangerous institution" and accused jail officials of failing to take basic steps to correct "systemic issues" and "serious constitutional violations" identified in a 2009 report by the department. That report concluded the jail is understaffed and doesn't adequately protect inmates from physical abuse.

Earlier this year, Gusman closed a facility that held more than 600 prisoners and transferred hundreds of state and parish inmates to prisons and jails outside New Orleans. At the time, Gusman said growing criticism about prison conditions was a factor in the decision to close its House of Detention to inmate housing.

The sheriff's office is building a new prison with more than 1,400 inmate beds. It's expected to be completed in 2014.

After the Southern Poverty Law Center sued over jail conditions in April, the Justice Department intervened in the class-action suit.

The group's suit accused jail officials of leaving prisoners vulnerable to sexual assaults and beatings and failing to provide adequate mental health care.

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