Prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison in Louisiana often endured rampant violence, multiple sexual assaults and neglect. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, charging the sheriff’s indifference created the brutal and inhumane conditions at the jail.
The federal complaint describes a facility where violence and widespread contraband – including knives and drugs – are the norm. It also notes the facility is understaffed and that deputies are poorly trained and supervised, and are often complicit in the abuses suffered by the prisoners.
Prisoners with mental illness endured abusive treatment, including a denial of mental health services that leaves them extremely vulnerable to physical attacks. People in need of mental health treatment or protection from suicide were held practically naked in overcrowded cells that reeked of human waste.
The SPLC’s legal filings were accompanied by affidavits from plaintiffs and other individuals who experienced the abusive conditions at the jail. Their statements described rape, abuse and poorly trained guards, who not only failed to prevent violence but instigated it. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case in September 2012.
An agreement was reached in December 2012 to address the brutal and inhumane conditions and was approved by a federal judge in June 2013. The federal consent decree outlined steps that Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman must take to ensure prisoner safety and adequate staffing of the facility. An independent monitor will oversee the agreement to ensure compliance. The agreement also applies to any new facility built to replace the jail.
The decree includes the following provisions:
- Review and monitoring of prison operations by a professional corrections administrator
- Comprehensive policies governing the use of force and restraints on prisoners
- Documenting and tracking complaints of prison staff using excessive force
- A staffing plan that provides enough officers to ensure prisoner safety
- A ban on placing teenagers in units where they may have contact with an adult prisoner
- Guidelines for providing medical and mental health care for prisoners
The SPLC previously raised concerns about the safety of prisoners at the jail after a transsexual inmate was repeatedly raped and tortured. The inmate, who tested negative for the HIV virus when she entered the jail, later tested positive for the virus after enduring the repeated rapes. The SPLC demanded that the sheriff take steps to protect the woman.