The Justice Department announced today that it has moved to intervene in a class action lawsuit regarding conditions of confinement at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), a pre-trial and correctional facility in New Orleans. The litigation seeks to address conditions that violate the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The department seeks remedies to correct inadequate medical, mental health care and suicide prevention practices; failures to protect prisoners from physical and sexual violence; deficiencies in environmental health and safety; and inadequate language access services for Latino prisoners with limited English proficiency (LEP).
The United States seeks to join as plaintiff-intervenors in Jones v. Gusman, class action litigation that the Southern Poverty Law Center has brought on behalf of the men, women and youth confined to OPP, to protect them from abusive and unconstitutional conditions of confinement. Both Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who oversees OPP, and the plaintiffs to the class action support the United States’ motion to intervene, to achieve a single, comprehensive resolution of the class action and the United States’ investigation of OPP. The department’s investigation, initiated in February 2008, was brought under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and language issues under Title VI.
“The Justice Department has longstanding, serious concerns about the conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison. The constitutional violations we found affect the health and safety of prisoners, corrections officers and the community,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Transforming the operation of the prison is a key component of the overall reform of the criminal justice system in New Orleans. Although we have moved to intervene in the pending litigation, we are hopeful that we can reach a negotiated resolution of this case in the near future, and put in place a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform. We will continue to work in an expeditious fashion with the sheriff, the city of New Orleans and the private plaintiffs on this important case.”
“The government’s intervention in this case will facilitate much needed reforms at OPP in the fastest and most efficient manner,” said James Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “The men, women and youth at OPP will benefit greatly from the comprehensive reform sought in this important intervention.”
The department issued findings in October 2009 and April 2012. Throughout that time, the department was engaged in discussions with the Sheriff to develop a set of comprehensible and sustainable reforms. Necessary reforms will require improved policies, procedures, staff training and supervision to ensure that OPP protects prisoners from violence and sexual assault by staff and other prisoners; provides adequate mental health and medical care, including suicide prevention; provides language services to LEP prisoners; and provides adequate fire and environmental safety.
The department has been working for some time with the OPP and community stakeholders on this negotiated settlement and is confident that it will serve as a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform. The department’s work with both OPP and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) reflects its continuing commitment to reforming the criminal justice system in New Orleans and across the country.