NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman recently agreed to relinquish operational control over the Orleans Parish Prison to an independent jail compliance director, settling a suit filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the court to take away Gusman’s power over the facility due to unsafe conditions at the jail and lack of compliance since 2013.
“The agreement provides that I will appoint an independent compliance director who will be charged with implementing the strategies needed to achieve substantial compliance of the 173 items in the consent decree,” Gusman said in a statement released after the deal was made. “Recognizing the importance of collaboration in this process, the parties will recommend and nominate candidates to fill this position.”
Gusman explained that within 90 days of hiring the compliance director will present an action plan for his approval that outlines the methods for achieving substantial compliance with a majority of the items in the consent decree within one year.
“This plan will include deadlines for taking the steps that are needed toward substantial compliance,” Gusman said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu found the order much needed and is hopeful that an independent compliance director will correct the recent mismanagement and dysfunction of the jail.
“Above all else, public safety is our top priority, and that is true whether it’s the police department, our focus on re-entry or prevention, or the city’s jail,” Landrieu said. “Since taking office, we’ve been pushing for sweeping criminal justice reforms. And that includes pushing back against a long history of over-incarceration, mismanagement and dysfunction at the Orleans Parish jail.”
Landrieu explained that in 2010, Sheriff Gusman submitted plans for a massive, unjustifiable 5,800-bed jail complex, 700 percent larger than the national average and the city rejected the request.
“Today, we are not only right sizing the jail, but we have invested more to ensure there is better care," Landrieu said. “Taxpayers have made a historic investment of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to build a brand new, state-of-the-art jail and its administrative facilities. At the same time, the city has more doubled the sheriff’s annual operating budget.”
Despite attempts at making the jail better, Landrieu said those investments have not been successful.
“The sheriff relinquishes operational control over the jail, and the compliance director will have full and independent authority to hire, fire, contract and operate the jail,” he said. “The jail compliance director will not only be responsible for bringing the jail into compliance with the consent decree, but will also run the budget so we have better oversight over your tax dollars.”
Landrieu also explained that the jail will also adopt policies for more open, transparent and competitive contracting and comprehensive financial reporting similar to what has been done at City Hall, including working with the director to overhaul off-duty details as was done for the New Orleans Police Department.
“No doubt, there’s a lot of work left to do, including finalizing the plans for housing our youth offenders, and our inmates with medical and mental health needs,” he said. “But this is a major step forward for our city. It’s transformative.”
Attorney General Jeff Landry also announced his support of the judge’s decision.
“I applaud Judge (Lance) Affrick for exercising judicial restraint in recognizing that Sheriff Gusman is a duly elected official and that they both are committed to improving jail conditions in the most expeditious manner,” Landry said in a press release following the announcement. “Today’s compromise delegates certain operational functions to an independent compliance director, which will help all parties move toward the ultimate goal of relieving the jail from federal oversight.”
Landry explained that local control of the jail’s conditions is much needed.
“Today’s compromise also respects and balances the need for a timely resolution while maintaining local control,” Landry said. “The 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution leaves certain functions to states, which the United States Supreme Court has interpreted to include police power. Government that governs closest governs best. I not only support reasonable, collaborative attempts to solve the problems at the jail; but I also pledge to do my part to help in every way possible."