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Eleven Years After Consent Decree Entered, New Orleans Jail Still Not Compliant

In a monitoring report on October 6, 2023, the Compliance Director with operational control over Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in New Orleans found continued problems at the jail, such as an increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence, overdoses and unnecessary use of force by guards. As PLN reported, unsafe and unconstitutional conditions at the jail, including high levels of violence, led to a class-action lawsuit that resulted in a 2013 consent decree and construction of a new jail facility. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.12] As part of that agreement, the Compliance Director is tasked with issuing a monitoring report every six months.

The most recent report, running 162-pages, covered the six-month period ending with March 2023. It noted that “[t]oo often the failure to follow policy is blamed on lack of staff or training,” but “[n]either is an acceptable excuse.” Problems at OPP have been exacerbated by a growing population: Some 1,140 people were housed at the jail, more than a 40% increase since mid-2021.

The consent decree includes 174 provisions related to security, safety, violence reduction and medical care. The monitors found that OPP was in substantial compliance with just 76—44%—of those requirements, though it was in non-compliance with just 12, or 7%. The jail was found in partial compliance with the remaining requirements.

Areas of non-compliance included late, incomplete or missing incident reports; failure to timely review use-of-force incidents; prisoners roaming outside their cells and making improvised weapons; and failure to keep drugs out of the facility, resulting in two fatal overdoses.

The monitors reported improvements in 11 areas, including implementation of a classification system for prisoners. They also lauded creation of a Compliance and Accountability Bureau by Sheriff Susan Hutson to improve compliance with the consent decree. However, the “lack of significant progression and, in some cases, regression is due to a failure to follow the policies and procedures that have been put in place.”

Inadequate staffing was driven by high numbers of employee resignations, terminations and retirements. “The level of staffing is extremely insufficient to adequately supervise inmates and allow for the safe operation of the facility,” the monitors wrote.

With respect to medical and mental health care for detainees, “challenges remain in the provision of basic care, staffing, and recordkeeping,” as well as a need for “improved collaboration with custody/security staffing.” Specific deficiencies in medical care were mentioned, including one case where a prisoner’s classic stroke symptoms went unrecognized by a nurse, resulting in permanent neurological damage.

The report also found “significant incidents of violence ... during the monitoring period” plus “the continued presence of weapons, pills, narcotics, and other contraband in housing units.” There were 256 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 132 uses of force during the first half of 2023. Several incidents were cited, including three fires set by prisoners and a slashing attack that, according to a news report, left a detainee cut “from ear to chin.”

Additionally, guards often resorted to force “to gain control and compliance,” but “the force used is more than necessary.” In one incident, a guard who reportedly used pepper spray on a handcuffed and restrained inmate. Although the jail has an Early Intervention System (EIS) to flag staff members for inappropriate use of force, “no review of staff alerted under the EIS was documented or provided,” and the Sheriff’s office acknowledged “that the reviews did not occur.”

The monitors recommended a number of improvements to ensure compliance with the consent decree, including reestablishment of a high security unit to house detainees who engage in violent or disruptive behavior. The consent decree remains in effect with oversight by the district court; class members are represented by attorneys from the MacArthur Justice Center. See: Jones v. Hutson, USDC (E.D. La.), Case No. 2:12-cv-00859.


Additional source: New Orleans Times-Picayune

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Related legal case

Jones v. Hutson