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Wed December 12, 2012

New Orleans Looks For Ways To Fund Jail Reform

Critics say New Orleans underfunds city jail.

The City of New Orleans is reviewing a consent decree designed to revamp operations at the parish jail. Federal officials are looking to the city to correct conditions they found unconstitutional.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Roy Austin outlined a list of changes to improve conditions for Orleans Parish Prison inmates. He says current staffing is too low, and inmates are subjected to sexual assaults and poor medical treatment. Austin says Louisiana law establishes a level of funding that the city must provide.

“The city has not been meeting this obligation and the prison has been dramatically underfunded for years,” Austin said. 

The consent decree comes after a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Attorney Katie Schwartzmann says conditions forced the matter to federal court.

“The jail is a dangerous place. The men, women and kids who are incarcerated there have witnessed and survived terrible things.” 

But the city is under budget restraints, and has to pay for reforming its police department — also under the direction of the Justice Department. Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, says there’s no proof that unconstitutional conditions exist because of a lack of funding. He says an audit  is being conducted to review how the jail funds are being spent.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman has requested $40 million to improve jail conditions — an amount the mayor’s office says would cripple city operations. Berni says the city is “not prepared to write a blank check.”

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