The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) today unveiled a 53-page proposed consent decree addressing longstanding safety issues at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The decree was filed in U.S. District Court by DOJ, the Sheriff's Office and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiff class in the class-action lawsuit filed against the jail and Sheriff Marlin Gusman last spring. Court records indicate that The city of New Orleans, which would ultimately be responsible for funding the provisions of the agreement, did not sign off on the filing, court records show.
The filers have requested a Feb. 19 fairness hearing on the consent decree before Judge Lance Africk, who would then have to sign off to give it the force of law. Africk would then have to determine how much funding would be required to enforce the consent decree.
Like the proposed New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree, today's settlement requires a federal monitor to follow OPSO's progress toward compliance. Unlike that one, though, which has a four-to-five year recommended expiration date, the OPP consent decree would expire "when Defendant has achieved substantial compliance with each provision of the Agreement and have maintained Substantial Compliance with the Agreement for a period of two years," the document reads.
(More after the jump)
The major provisions are divided into seven broad categories.
A. PROTECTION FROM HARM
—This section would guarantee that OPP is adequately staffed with correctional officers, investigators and supervisors at all times. Regular rounds of housing units will be required, and investigations of violence must be led by neutral parties. The section calls for the implementation of a prisoner housing classification system based on violence-risk and mental health.
—It also requires OPSO to develop and implement an extensive use of force policy for deputies, "in accordance with generally accepted correctional standards."
—Any such policy would specifically prohibit use of force (1) in response to insults or verbal threats, (2) in response to prisoners' failure to follow instructions where there is no immediate threat to safety as a result, (3) after a prisoner has already been subdued and (4) as retaliation.
Deputies will have to attend use of force training sessions at least once per year. From the document:
"The training will include the following:
(1) instruction on what constitutes excessive force;
(2) de-escalation tactics; and
(3) management of prisoners with mental illness to limit the need for using force."
Staff members will be required to report any use of force incident in which they've been involved or witnessed. All serious uses of force will be sent to the Internal Affairs Division for investigation. The Sheriff's Office will be required to develop an "Early Intervention System" to track deputies involved in high numbers of incidents.
—Another provision in the section requires that OPSO set aside space and security personnel for the city's pretrial services program.
B. MENTAL HEALTH
—OPSO will have to develop a "screening instrument" for potential mental health issues.
—All prisoners will have to be screened within eight hours of arrival at OPP. Prisoners with urgent mental health issues will all see a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker within 48 hours of their screening. OPP will have to provide group or individual therapy for prisoners with mental health needs.
—All staff members who supervise prisoners will take suicide prevention training. Cells designated for suicide watch prisoners must be retro-fitted to render them suicide-resistant.
—"OPSO shall prevent the unnecessary or excessive use of physical or chemical restraints on prisoners with mental illness."
Staff will be required to track and report on the use of restraints. The reports will be submitted to the federal monitor for periodic evaluations.
—"OPSO shall ensure that medical and mental health staffing is sufficient to provide adequate care for prisoners’ serious medical and mental health needs, fulfill constitutional mandates and the terms of this Agreement, and allow for the adequate operation of the Facility, consistent with constitutional standards."
C. MEDICAL CARE
—Medical and mental health staff will all be trained in proper medication administration.
—Doctors will be required to conduct frequent reviews of their patients' medicinal regimens.
—The administration will be required to give advance notice when releasing a prisoner with serious medical needs when reasonable. OPSO will give these prisoners a seven-day supply of their medications. If the medical staff doesn't receive advance notice, they will give these prisoners a prescription.
D. SANITATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS
—Cleaning must occur regularly and be supervised.
—OPSO will be required to check the ventilation system at least twice a year.
—Broken light fixtures must be fixed within five days.
—Pest control spraying at least four times per year.
E. FIRE AND LIFE SAFETY
—Maintain fire prevention equipment, conduct monthly inspections, fire drills at least every six months, clearly mark emergency door keys.
F. LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE
—OPSO will be required to take "reasonable steps" to provide interpreters.
—Staff will track demographic patterns and use that data to determine how many bilingual staff members are needed and what languages they should speak.
This is important in part because of Department of Homeland Security (by which we generally mean DHS-Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees, who often don't speak English. Unless these detainees are being held on other, criminal charges, they're supposed to be released after 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays). Under this consent decree, interpreters will have to clearly explain to detainees when the 48-hour period begins and ends and provide that information to his or her family/attorney.
G. YOUTHFUL PRISONERS
—Short and straightforward: Prisoners 17 and under can't be confined with adults and must be separated, or if not separated, closely supervised, in OPP's common areas.
Read the proposed consent decree: OPP_Consent_Decree.pdf