Officials at the Orleans Justice Center have painted a rosy picture in recent weeks of the parish jail’s future. They say inmate-on-inmate attacks are down and the New Orleans jail is on track to hire all the deputies it needs by July 1.
But in a report released Wednesday, watchdogs appointed by a federal judge said the jail is actually backsliding.
The federal monitors said the jail has not improved since a new independent administrator, Gary D. Maynard, took over day-to-day operations from Sheriff Marlin Gusman in October.
Instead, they said, compliance with a reform plan has “regressed,” inmates are only “marginally safer” and the jail may need 90 more positions beyond those funded in the city's budget.
The harsh report suggests jail officials will need to go into overtime writing new policies, hiring new deputies and cracking down on misbehavior among current employees in order to fix the jail.
An attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center, which filed the initial lawsuit that led to the jail’s court-ordered reform plan in 2013, said the report raises “very serious concerns about the lack of progress at the Orleans jail.”
“We are committed to working with Director Maynard to move the jail forward, but we encourage him to leverage all available resources and to bring in additional support. Reform of the jail remains an enormous task,” Emily Washington, a lawyer at the nonprofit center, said in a statement.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.
The independent administrator in charge of running the city's jail said Thursday that the Or…
Over the course of 158 pages, the new report addresses violence in the jail, inmate suicides and the jail’s plans to fix its chronic staffing shortages. Maynard is given credit for his “professional determination” and for initiatives like a staff-wide retraining initiative. But the report also makes clear that he has his work cut out for him.
The monitors said the level of violence in the jail remains at “unacceptable levels.”
From the day Maynard took over in October through the end of March, the Sheriff’s Office reported there were 161 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 15 inmate assaults on staff.
The monitors said those numbers should come with a big asterisk. Although the jail boasted of reducing inmate-on-inmate attacks by 25 percent, its inmate population plummeted by 50 percent over the same period, as inmates were sent to other parishes to allow for retraining of deputies.
Moreover, the monitors said a review of medical logs suggested that many jailhouse attacks still go unreported in the official tally. A fractured hand, a head injury, a broken jaw, facial injuries and an orbital fracture listed in the medical logs never appeared in official reports.
In several instances, a high-ranking captain never reported using force on inmates, despite the fact that the captain was involved in those incidents, the report said. In other cases, supervisors were disciplined for failing to report violent incidents only when the monitors intervened.
“The level of harm and risk of harm to inmates held in the Orleans Parish jail system continues to be extremely high,” the report said.
The monitors also found the suicide of 15-year-old Jaquin Thomas in October to be troubling. Although the jail has claimed for years that it fully staffs special units like the youth tier where Thomas was held, internal investigators determined that jail officials did not know they needed to have a guard on duty there at all times.
Inmates are still able to find the tools to harm themselves, suicide watches are “inadequate” and one suicide-resistant cell is being used to store bed frames, the report said.
An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who failed to notice for 90 minutes that a 15-year…
The Sheriff’s Office has always said that increased staffing is the key to improving safety inside the jail. At a public meeting in March, Maynard said the city finally has “properly funded” the Sheriff’s Office, allowing it to hire the deputies it needs.
Maynard predicted the Sheriff’s Office would have the 804 employees it believes it needs by July 1. However, even if the jail meets that ambitious goal, the monitors argue that the jail will still be short-handed.
As of now, deputies are allowed to leave jail tiers unsupervised for more than an hour at a time. The staffing plan for the future “memorializes” this practice, since there is no relief for deputies who go on lunch and dinner breaks, the monitors said.
“The staffing plan underlying the budget approved and funded by the city does not provide the staff necessary to operate the jail to protect inmates from harm,” the report states. “The monitors believe that the required staffing for a constitutional jail may require between 40 to 90 more positions than currently funded.”
The monitors did not put a price tag on the extra deputies.
The New Orleans City Council on Thursday agreed to boost the budget for the city’s jail by $…