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New director to have final say over New Orleans jail under settlement

ADVOCATE STAFF REPORT

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman speaks at a news conference in May 2016.
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman speaks at a news conference in May 2016. Advocate staff photo

The settlement that allows Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to retain control of the city’s jail also calls for the hiring of an “independent jail compliance director” who will implement the consent decree reforms.

The compliance director will have final authority to operate the jail, including “authority over the entire prisoner population,” according to the agreement, which was signed by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk and released Tuesday in federal court. The director, who will have office space at the jail, will also have hiring authority and can recommend raises for deputies.

The compliance director “will be answerable only to the court” under the agreement.

Gusman said Tuesday that he will appoint the compliance director and that candidates will be nominated by parties. He added that the compliance budget “must address” deputy pay raises, a flash point in the long-running dispute between City Hall and the Sheriff’s Office.

The deal was reached after a week of discussions that began several days into an unusual court hearing at which attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department and the MacArthur Justice Center, the civil rights law firm representing the city’s inmates, argued that Gusman lacks the leadership to improve conditions at the jail. They asked Africk to appoint a so-called receiver to manage day-to-day operations at the jail, a highly unusual legal maneuver that would have stripped Gusman of his core responsibilities as sheriff.

Africk held an evidentiary hearing in which he heard expert testimony about inmate violence at the jail, which the government pointed to as evidence that deputies are not in control of the lockup. The city’s jail, known as the Orleans Justice Center, remains dangerously understaffed, and hundreds of inmates are being housed in other parishes.

Gusman had been expected to testify during the proceedings but struck the compromise before he was called to the stand. He has insisted the Sheriff’s Office is making progress toward a series of jail reforms and blamed Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration for providing inadequate funding for the jail.

The Landrieu administration, which under state law is required to pay for the care of local inmates, has accused the sheriff of mismanagement; city leaders supported the government’s request that Africk sideline Gusman and appoint an outside administrator to run the jail.

The hearing had been scheduled to resume Tuesday, but Africk canceled it and scheduled a status conference in its place.

Follow The Advocate's Jim Mustian as he updates live from a Tuesday morning press conference.

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