This Week’s Hearings

On Monday and Tuesday, Sheriff Marlin Gusman faced two hearings in federal court. Monday’s hearing concerned Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office’s (OPSO) plan for staffing the new jail (now called the Orleans Justice Center, or OJC), in light of the sheriff’s announcement last week that he would send people with state charges back to state custody. At Tuesday’s hearing the monitoring team reported on the conditions in OJC, the first official report since the move to the new building.

Recap of the hearings:

At Monday’s hearing, Judge Africk began by fining both the city’s and the sheriff’s attorneys $1000 each for their failures to submit a document on time to the court. (Don’t worry taxpayers, the fines will come out of the attorneys’ own pockets, not ours). Chief of Corrections Carmen DeSadier was asked how the removal of people serving state sentences would affect the staffing shortages in the jail. DeSadier did not appear to know where her staff worked and what their duties were—eventually Judge Africk ordered the sheriff’s staff to check with payroll for a list of over 700 employees, and to submit that list along with the duties of each person to the court. In addition, the sheriff’s attorney explained the system for housing people in the new jail (which the monitor pointed out was essentially meaningless given the lack of adherence to a classification system), and Judge Africk asked for the details of who in the sheriff’s custody had state charges, who would be sent back to state custody, and who would remain at OJC and why. The sheriff’s staff appeared to have little idea about who was in their jail and who worked for them, and the sheriff himself was ordered to testify the next day.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Africk and the monitoring team expressed their concerns at the lack of progress, and Judge Africk expressed particular frustration over the mounting costs of this lawsuit . The monitors reported that the levels of violence in the new jail were “absolutely unacceptable.” Because of the lack of reporting by OPSO, the monitors had consulted with the medical log to identify incidents of violence. The numbers are staggering: In the first 3 months in the new jail, there were 150 incidents (119 of which had not been reported), including over 200 assaults, 16 attempted suicides, 44 uses of force (of which only 20 were reported), 3 sexual assaults, and one death from a chronic illness. There have already been 114 incidents in 2016 alone. We heard, too, about the monitors’ explanations for why violence remained so high, reasons which including a lack of a system of classification, and inadequate training and supervision of the sheriff’s deputies who staff the jail. These reports confirm what we already knew—that despite the shiny new facility, our community members remain unsafe and at risk of violence and death in the sheriff’s custody.

 

Our thoughts, in short:

We share Judge Africk and the monitoring team’s frustration at the continued violence and mis-management of the jail; this frustration is long overdue. We have known that despite the opening of OJC, little has changed in the way OPSO runs the jail, and the lives of our community members who are locked up continue to be endangered every minute that OPSO fails in their duty to protect them from harm and violence.

We are disappointed that so much emphasis during the hearings was placed on the financial costs of these hearings, rather than on the human cost to our community, and are disappointed that our elected officials do little more than point fingers to address our jail crisis. It’s time our elected officials put our community, not their careers, first.

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