A federal judge has ordered Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to retrain deputies on how to identify and respond to inmates who appear to be suicidal.
The order, signed last week by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, comes about a month after a 24-year-old inmate hanged himself with a telephone cord at Orleans Parish Prison not long after he told deputies he was feeling suicidal.
Africk, in his ruling, found Gusman has not yet met the requirements of a court-ordered plan to reform the jail with respect to reducing the risk of suicide among inmates. The new training was sought by the U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys with the MacArthur Justice Center, who are representing New Orleans inmates in a class-action lawsuit against Gusman over the jail’s conditions.
Africk’s ruling requires the Sheriff’s Office to draft a memorandum to all staff outlining “the specific actions staff will take to respond if they observe a prisoner exhibiting signs or symptoms of suicidality.” He said the memorandum must be read at staff briefings for three consecutive days and posted “in locations where staff are likely to view it.”
By Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office also is required to conduct a one-hour training session for all staff who haven’t been instructed over the past year on recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of suicidal behavior.
Africk signed off on the new training after top jail officials — and even outside experts monitoring the jail reforms — failed during a court hearing last month to answer a question from the Justice Department about whether the jail had a policy for monitoring and housing inmates identified as potentially suicidal.
A 2013 consent decree signed by Gusman requires the Sheriff’s Office “to ensure that prisoners at risk of self-harm are identified, protected and treated in a manner consistent with the (U.S.) Constitution.” It also calls for the direct observation of inmates who are placed on suicide watch.
Despite these requirements, Ryan Miller, a Harvey man who had been awaiting trial on rape charges, was relocated to an unsupervised area of the jail last month after telling deputies he felt suicidal. Court testimony revealed the inmate was placed in an attorney visitation room where he had access to a telephone cord.
In an interview this month, Gusman said Miller’s suicide remained under investigation, and he declined to discuss the specifics of the case. His office denied a public-records request from The New Orleans Advocate, saying no records related to Miller’s death could be released.
“I don’t think it was all that complicated,” Gusman said of the death, adding that his investigators were still taking statements. “I haven’t seen anybody go before the disciplinary board yet, but all in good time.”
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