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Orleans Parish Prison Lawsuit

MacArthur Justice Center on selection of Gary Maynard as Independent Jail Compliance Director

Emily Washington, attorney at the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans, issued the following statement in response to Sheriff Gusman’s selection of Gary Maynard from the nominees provided for the Independent Jail Compliance Director:

“Gary Maynard has been selected from the nominees provided by the Department of Justice, the City of New Orleans, and the MacArthur Justice Center for the Independent Jail Compliance Director. While the selection is still subject to the final approval of the court, we look forward to working with the compliance director on much-needed reforms to the conditions at the Orleans Parish jail. We continue to have serious concerns for the safety of the men, women, and kids held in the jail, but we are optimistic that the compliance director’s skill set and corrections experience will provide the leadership necessary to advance reforms at the facility."

Updated - 08/25/16


New Independent Jail Compliance Director to have final authority over all operations of the Orleans Parish jail

On Tuesday, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which represents the people in the Orleans Parish jail consent decree litigation Jones v. Gusman, issued the following statement, concerning the federal court order approving the agreement to have the court appoint an Independent Jail Compliance Director with final authority and administrative control over the Orleans Parish jail.

Katie M. Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, stated the following:

“This litigation was filed four years ago to address the dangerous conditions faced by the men, women and youth in the Orleans Parish jail.  A year after the filing, in June 2013, the Court entered a Consent Decree requiring essential reforms to the way the jail is operated. Three years later, the reforms have not been implemented, and the people in the jail continue to face serious and ongoing danger.  Accordingly, the plaintiff prisoner class and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion on April 25 seeking the appointment of an outside individual to provide independent oversight and management of the jail. 

“The agreement announced today creating an Independent Jail Compliance Director position over the Orleans Parish jail marks a significant step forward in continuing efforts to make the 2013 court ordered reforms a reality and to improve the safety of people held in the jail.

“The Orleans Parish jail remains in dire need of a complete overhaul, including personnel, policies, and institutional culture.  The new Independent Jail Compliance Director will be an individual with experience in corrections who will have the final authority over all operations at the jail, including final oversight of all policies. That person will have the final authority to hire, fire and reassign staff, as well as the final authority to make whatever decisions are necessary to move the jail toward compliance with the Consent Decree. 

“This change in leadership and the addition of correctional management experience is critical to speeding reform at the jail.  We are hopeful that the Sheriff will likewise support the changes necessary to create significant and lasting reform at the Orleans Parish jail.

“Given the urgency of the situation, the City, the Department of Justice, and the plaintiff class have already begun the search for the best individual to serve as the Independent Jail Compliance Director and to have final authority and administrative control over the Orleans Parish jail.  A copy of the job description will be posted on the MacArthur Justice Center website (www.NewOrleans.MacArthurJusticeCenter.org), and applications can be sent to: opso.compliancedirector@usdoj.gov.

“There is still an enormous amount of work to be done to ensure the safety of people being held in the jail. We are committed to working together with the other parties and the new Independent Compliance Director to do it.”

PDF of Stipulated Order for Appointment of Independent Jail Compliance Director

Updated - 06/21/16


Federal Court Asked to Strip Sheriff Marlin Gusman of Authority Over Orleans Parish Prison

Citing the grave danger imposed on men, women and children incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), attorneys for the prisoners and the United States Department of Justice have asked a federal court to take the extraordinary step of stripping Sheriff Marlin Gusman of the authority to operate the jail, which has been under federal oversight since 2013.

In a motion filed Monday, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Department of Justice argued Gusman has repeatedly failed to deliver the improvements called for in the 2013 consent judgment governing jail operations, including security, medical and mental health care, sanitation and classification. As a result, the people incarcerated there are not safe and have been subjected to an “epidemic of violence.”

“The Sheriff not only has failed or refused to comply with the Consent Judgment, he has proven to be incapable of taking action necessary to comply,” stated the motion, which detailed widespread violence and underreporting of the violence by the jail.

“Urgent and extraordinary action is required of this Court to address the immediate risk of harm and death to the men, women and youth in the Jail,” according to the motion.  “Although there is no question that receivership is an extraordinary remedy, so too is the level of harm that continues to plague the Jail, with no apparent end in sight.  The history of this case, the current state of Consent Judgment compliance, and the ongoing dangerous conditions demonstrate that receivership is the only path forward.”

The attorneys argued that violence in the OPP “continues to spiral out of control” and that staff uses of force against prisoners “go unreported, uninvestigated, and are out of control.”

In addition, the motion contends that even after construction of a new building to house the jail, there remain suicide risks that have not been corrected.  Last month, Cleveland Tumblin, a 61-year-old boxing instructor, died after hanging himself in a shower stall at the jail, locked from the inside. The Sheriff was warned of the known suicide hazard months before the death.  “Orleans Parish prisoners are dying as a result of the Sheriff’s unwillingness or inability to comply with life saving measures,” according to the motion.

The motion asks U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk to hold Sheriff Gusman in contempt of the Consent Judgment provisions. It further requests that Judge Africk set a schedule for additional briefing on the logistics of appointing a receiver to administer the jail.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has litigation responsibility in Jones v. Gusman, the federal lawsuit alleging pervasive violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights in the OPP.  Katie M. Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans, is lead counsel on the case, which began in 2012 and detailed the inhumane conditions at the jail, where prisoners often were subjected to violence, sexual assaults, neglect and the denial of needed mental health services. The Department of Justice intervened in September 2012; and an agreement was reached to address the conditions in December 2012.

PDF of Memo in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Contempt and for Appointment of Receiver to Implement Consent Judgement

Updated - 04/25/16


Recent Monitors’ Report Confirms Continued Failure to Improve Conditions in Orleans Jail

In April 2012 the men, women, and kids in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) sued the Sheriff to improve conditions in the jail. That lawsuit was filed to stop rampant rapes, beatings and stabbings in the notorious lock-up. It resulted in a consent decree that was approved by the federal court in June 2013. As part of the consent decree a team of independent monitors is appointed to report on the Sheriff’s compliance with the various consent decree provisions.

Today the team of monitors released the fifth periodic compliance report. That report finds that rather than making progress, the Sheriff’s Office has actually fared worse in many areas of the consent decree. Despite having moved into a new jail building and having shipped hundreds of prisoners to other jurisdictions, areas of the consent decree that were previously seeing progress have moved out of compliance.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center represents the men, women, and kids in OPP in the consent decree. Lead attorney Katie Schwartzmann said:

The monitors’ report documents the fact that four years into this lawsuit OPP remains a disaster. Moving into a shiny, expensive new jail building didn’t fix the fundamental lack of vision and leadership at the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gusman has been in office for over a decade, so he can’t blame the problems on the previous Sheriff or Katrina. The City has almost fully funded his current budget requests, so the Sheriff can’t blame lack of funding. There’s just no excuse for OPP’s continued failure of our community.  

And yet another person, Cleveland Tumblin, died in the jail last week.

The plaintiffs are deciding upon next steps, but obviously the current situation can’t continue.

PDF of Monitors' Report No. 5 »

New Orleans' jail issues 'overwhelming,' experts say in new report ripping Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Baton Rouge Advocate

Updated - 03/18/16


OPP Consent Decree Plaintiffs Support City’s Legal Filings to Remove State Prisoners from Orleans Jail

Lawyers representing prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) have a filed briefing opposing Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s movement of an additional 140 Orleans Parish prisoners to East Carroll Parish jail in Northern Louisiana on Jan. 22. Gusman also announced that there are plans to move 50-60 additional prisoners. The latest group of relocated prisoners adds to the 150 prisoners that the Sheriff has already sent to that region of the state.

Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center and counsel for the plaintiffs in that litigation: “The Sheriff’s decision to move even more Orleans pretrial detainees hours away from courts, their lawyers and families is absolutely outrageous. It is inexcusable that three years into this consent decree the jail remains so dangerous and understaffed that we now have to send unconvicted pretrial detainees to be held in other jurisdictions. Sheriff Gusman has had over two years to prepare for the day when the new jail would be ready to open. In those two years, the Sheriff has failed to hire and train adequate staff for the new facility.

Full statement from Schwartzmann »

PDF of briefing »

Updated - 01/25/16


Lack of Progress in Improving Conditions at Orleans Parish Prison “Inexcusable”

There has been little improvement and even setbacks in improving prisoner safety and adequate staffing at the Orleans Parish Prison, according to the team of experts monitoring Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman’s compliance with a December 2012 consent decree.

The monitoring team’s second report said there have been no “substantial changes” since its first report in February and said medical and mental health care have “deteriorated.”

“While appreciating that there is substantial work to gain compliance, the health and safety of more than 2,000 inmates are in peril today because of the lack of staff, wholly substandard medical care, absence of mental health care, and deteriorated and unclean living environments,“ wrote Susan W. McCampbell, who is leader of the team monitoring compliance with the Jones v. Gusman consent decree. “Leadership is essential to solving problems.”

Katie M. Schwartzmann, lead counsel for plaintiffs in the lawsuit and Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans, said the situation the slow pace is inexcusable and the lives of workers and those held in the prison remain in danger.

“The lack of progress outlined in the monitor's second report to the court reflects the grave and deadly continuing crisis facing the men, women and youth in Orleans Parish Prison,” Schwartzmann said. “Medical care, mental health care and violence have continued to worsen, jeopardizing the lives of everyone who is held at the jail, as well as the staff.

“Our clients and their families demand -- and taxpayers deserve -- real and immediate progress in changing the conditions that endanger the lives and health of New Orleanians held at the jail,” Schwartzmann said. “This lawsuit was filed two and a half years ago. We have waited too long. The Sheriff's failure to make meaningful progress in implementing reforms to keep people at OPP safe is inexcusable.”

PDF of Monitors' Report No. 2 »

PDF of Attachment 1 to Monitors' Report No. 2 »

PDF of Attachment 2 to Monitors' Report No. 2 »

Experts find little progress, little commitment to changes at OPP, Baton Rouge Advocate

PDF

Updated - 08/27/14


MacArthur Justice Center Takes Lead in Orleans Parish Prison Lawsuit

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has been given litigation responsibility in the federal lawsuit alleging pervasive violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).

U.S. District Court Judge Lance M. Africk granted the motion transferring the case, which originated with the New Orleans office of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Katie M. Schwartzmann continues as lead counsel on the case, which was filed last year when she was Managing Director of the SPLCs New Orleans office.

Schwartzmann and veteran capital defense lawyer James W. Craig are the Co-Directors of the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, a Chicago-based, privately funded public interest law firm. The new office has expanded opportunities for the MacArthur Justice Center to affect civil rights and human rights through litigation to reform the criminal justice system.

Jones v. Gusman was filed on behalf of prisoners at the OPP against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman. The suit described the inhumane conditions at the jail, where prisoners often were subjected to violence, sexual assaults, neglect and the denial of needed mental health services. Litigation began in April 2012; the U.S. Department of Justice intervened in September 2012; and an agreement was reached to address the conditions in December 2012.

In June 2013, Africk signed the consent decree specifying the steps Gusman must take to ensure prisoner safety and adequate staffing at the jail. “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,” Africk stated in the decree.

Africk will oversee the implementation of the changes planned for the prison.

In addition to Schwartzmann and Craig, the MacArthur Justice Center will staff the Jones v. Gusman lawsuit with another attorney and three investigators.

Additional background and court documents related to Jones v. Gusman are available on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Learn more »

Updated 10/23/13