Covering Louisiana

Mar 9, 2014 12:52 PM by KATC

Critics: Orleans Sheriff needs at least $10M more a year

Orleans Parish Prison is still dangerously understaffed and the sheriff's office needs at least $10 million more to meet requirements of a court settlement, inmates and the U.S. Justice Department say in court papers.

Papers filed late Friday say the sheriff's office needs more than 600 new workers, The New Orleans Advocate reported. The cost will be closer to $22 million if the sheriff's office brings starting salaries up to those of neighboring law enforcement agencies, the attorneys wrote.

"OPP is a chaotic, dangerous facility that puts prisoners at an unreasonable risk of serious harm," the attorneys wrote in a 45-page filing, saying the need is desperate for more deputies to supervise inmates. "We cannot wait any longer to implement the reforms that have been held to be necessary to remedy the egregious unconstitutional conditions at OPP."

City and Sheriff's Office officials are due in federal court March 20 to work out the city's contribution toward a federal consent decree to improve the jail. A trial last summer dealt with last year's costs.

Spokesmen for Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Mayor Mitch Landrieu did not respond to requests for comment Friday night, the newspaper said.

They did not immediately respond to requests Saturday from The Associated Press.

The Sheriff's Office plans to solicit bids this month for an outside firm to handle medical and mental health services, according to the filing.

A new 1,438-bed jail is not equipped to treat inmates suffering from acute mental health issues, and Gusman has said he needs to renovate an existing jail building to serve that function as city officials decide whether to erect another permanent facility.

The attorneys said the average number of incidents requiring emergency room visits for inmates rose about one a month, from 59.75 a month in 2012 to 60.7 a month in 2013. "The averages have also increased for three out of the five referral categories: lacerations and punctures, fractures or dislocations, and sexual assaults," Maggie Yates, a senior investigator with the MacArthur Justice Center, wrote.

In September, an inmate was "raped, forced to perform oral sex, tied up and stuffed in a laundry bag" on a tier where not a single deputy was stationed, the attorneys wrote. There are just too few deputies to assign one to each tier as U.S. District Judge Lance Africk has said should be done, they wrote.

Laura Coon of the Justice Department and Katie Schwartzmann of the MacArthur Justice Center wrote that if deputies cannot be assigned quickly enough, protecting inmates "may ultimately require removal of prisoners from OPP to other parish jails."

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