NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday accusing New Orleans jail officials of routinely subjecting prisoners to brutal, inhumane conditions.

The suit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and other jail officials claims Orleans Parish Prison is oversized, understaffed and full of homemade knives wielded by violent prisoners. Prisoners are vulnerable to sexual assaults and beatings.

Violent guards are a problem, as well, the lawsuit claims. It also says prisoners with mental illnesses languish without treatment.

“Sheriff Gusman demonstrates deliberate indifference to the basic rights of the people housed at OPP by implementing constitutionally deficient security, staffing, classification and mental health policies and practices,” the lawsuit says.

The SPLC seeks a court order requiring jail officials to cease all “unconstitutional and unlawful practices” and improve living conditions and care for prisoners.

The suit says the facility currently houses roughly 3,400 prisoners but isn’t adequately staffed or supervised.

A spokesman for Gusman didn’t immediately return a call and email seeking comment.

Orleans Parish Prison and the people who run it have been targeted for years by critics who describe conditions there as dangerous and unconstitutional. Monday’s lawsuit echoes complaints in a Justice Department report issued in September 2009. It, too, said the prison was understaffed, had violent guards and that prisoners often lacked adequate mental health treatment. At the time, Gusman said the Justice Department report ignored improvements at the prison and called the report “a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work.”


Associated Press reporter Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report.