Newly opened Orleans Justice Center has ‘absolutely unacceptable’ level of violence, staff ‘not in control,’ experts say
Jim Mustian of The New Orleans Advocate reports that a team of outside corrections experts has declared the levels of violence inside the new Orleans Justice Center “absolutely unacceptable. This comes just six months after Sheriff Marlin Gusman opened the city’s new $150 million jail, calling it a “new day” for New Orleans inmates and jail staff.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Depart ordered reforms of the jail, but monitors have said that stabbings and assaults have continued unabated as Gusman struggles to hire enough deputies to staff the 1,438-bed facility (The Advocate).
“We had been very hopeful that when the new jail opened there would be a decrease in the level of inmate-inmate violence,” said Susan McCampbell, the lead monitor, to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk. “I’m here to tell you that has not happened” (The Advocate).
The new facility was designed to allow deputies to directly supervise inmates, since the old jail’s layout made direct supervision difficult. Gusman described these architectural changes to be a game-changer, but according to the monitors, the new building has not solved staffing shortages or inadequate training (The Advocate). McCampbell said her team discovered a medical log at the jail that showed over 100 incidents that the Sheriff’s Office has failed to act on or even report. Margo Frasier, a monitor and former sheriff from Austin, Texas, told Africk that the Sheriff’s Office has been underreporting the number of jailhouse attacks (The Advocate).
According to monitors, the Sheriff’s Office also realigned its internal affairs unit without consulting the monitoring team. Monitors and other experts suspect that this move was an attempt to hide or shield the public from reports that show unimproved records of violence within the jail.
After the hearing, Gusman addressed judge Africk about deputy retention, as well as unsuccessful efforts to find jails closer than East Carroll and Franklin parishes to house inmates awaiting trial. Judge Africk responded with concerns about the slow pace of the reforms, emphasizing that “we can’t continue down this path” (The Advocate). Gusman has blamed Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration for the staffing crisis, saying the Sheriff’s Office can’t recruit new hires because the city refuses to raise deputies’ pay. Gusman and his attorney, Blake Arcuri, maintain that the jail will continue to have high turnover rates until that happens, causing staff to be routinely undertrained (The Advocate).
Katie Schwartzmann, the MacArthur Justice Center attorney whose class-action lawsuit prompted the federal supervision of the jail, said security issues have less to do with a shortage of money than with a “dysfunctional institutional culture” at the Sheriff’s Office (The Advocate).
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