The U.S. Department of Justice has reached agreement with New Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) for a federal consent decree that will hopefully halt a culture of unlawful abusive conditions for 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.”
A 2008 federal investigation into OPP turned up a list of violations against the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) — violations that had not been corrected as of April this year. Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit to compel OPP to improve safety measures for those imprisoned, especially in terms of sexual assault and rape.
“We are hopeful the judge will agree that this settlement is in the best interest of all parties involved,” said Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney for the SPLC’s New Orleans office and lead attorney on the case. “We also applaud Sheriff Gusman and his office for taking the important first step of acknowledging the problems within the jail. While implementation will be difficult, we are committed to improving conditions, and will work with him to do so. We also need the city to work with us and provide the funding to truly fix this jail.”
The terms of the consent decree include a monitoring plan for prison operations, new policies governing the use of force and restraints on prisoners, proper documenting of excessive force from prison staff, a plan to make sure there is adequate staffing to ensure prisoner safety, a ban on placing teenagers in cells with adult prisoners, guidelines for medical and mental health provisions, and assurance that Spanish-speaking inmates will have better access to medical treatment.
An independent monitor is also called for to monitor progress and submit bi-yearly compliance reports. This announcement follows a federal consent decree that gives DOJ oversight over New Orleans Police Department after a pattern of abuse and corruption was exposed, especially following Hurricane Katrina.
Read a copy of the consent decree here.