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Judge refuses to appoint ‘receiver’ for OPP

9th September 2013   ·   0 Comments

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a motion to appoint an independent operator for Orleans Parish Prison, The Associated Press reported.. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration had urged U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to appoint a “receiver” to run the jail in place of Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

The mayor’s attempts to convince the federal government to seize control of the New Orleans jail comes as the City of New Orleans faces two federally mandated consent decrees aimed at overhauling the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison.

The Landrieu administration motion came amid continuing arguments between Landrieu and Gusman over who should pay for the court-ordered jail reforms.

Judge Africk said in Tuesday’s ruling that appointing a receiver is a drastic step. However, he did not preclude the city from pursing the issue again later. In a related matter, attorneys for prisoners filed court documents Wednesday seeking to have Gusman pay legal costs in the case.

Their proposed order does not specify an amount but documents well over $1 million in attorney fees and expenses.

Judge Africk said on June 6, 2013 that the federally mandated OPP consent decree is the only way to bring Orleans Parish Prison up to constitutional standards.

Whether “budget shortfalls, a lack of political will in favor of reform,” and/or other factors are responsible for OPP’s deficiencies, these deficiencies must be remedied,” Africk wrote. “Such conditions ‘are rarely susceptible of simple or straightforward solutions,’ but the consent judgment presents a narrowly drawn yet comprehensive means of ensuring the protection of inmates’ federal rights.

“The federal rights at issue here, particularly with respect to the Constitution, establish minimum standards rather than ideals to which a correctional institution may aspire,” Africk continued. “These minimum standards are nonnegotiable. The Constitution guarantees that inmates, including convicted inmates and pretrial detainees who are presumed innocent, receive certain minimum levels of medical care and mental health care. It also guarantees that inmates will not be subject to a substantial risk of physical injury, sexual assault, or death to which officials are deliberately indifferent. The Court finds that the proposed consent judgment is the only way to overcome the years of stagnation that have permitted OPP to remain an indelible stain on the community, and it will ensure that OPP inmates are treated in a manner that does not offend contemporary notions of human decency. After carefully considering the tremendous amount of evidence, the parties’ arguments, including the City’s objections, and the law, the Court concludes that the consent judgment should be approved.”

Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, told nola.com in June that he agreed with Judge Africk’s assessment of the problems at OPP and the need to immediately address them.

“The unconstitutional conditions that exist in that jail — whether they are the sheriff’s fault or the result of lack of funding by the city — really those arguments don’t really matter in the eyes of our Constitution,” Goyeneche said. “They have to be fixed.”

This article originally published in the September 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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