The Orleans Justice Center, formerly called Orleans Parish Prison, has been the subject of civil rights litigation since 1969. In September 2009 and April 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice issued letters to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, describing findings of conditions that violate the Constitution, including lack of safety from violence, excessive use of force by deputies and prison staff, lack of adequate medical and mental health care, and other issues.
Before she joined the MacArthur Justice Center, Katie Schwartzmann filed two lawsuits challenging the Sheriff’s operation of the prison on behalf of the men, women and kids incarcerated there. The DOJ joined the case as co-plaintiffs. A consent judgment was approved by U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk on June 6, 2013, who stated: “The Court finds that the proposed consent judgment is the only way to overcome the years of stagnation that have permitted OPP to remain an indelible stain on the community, and it will ensure that OPP inmates are treated in a manner that does not offend contemporary notions of human decency.”
Since November 2013, the MacArthur Justice Center has taken up the challenge of enforcing the consent judgment. Now led by attorney Emily Washington, our team of attorneys and investigators enter OJC multiple times per week to meet one-on-one with our incarcerated clients and report on conditions, practices or incidents that violate the consent judgment. We also review documents provided by the Sheriff’s Office, meet with the independent Court Monitors, and review and respond to the Monitors’ reports to the Court.
Our approach to enforcement of the consent judgment is more labor-intensive than in many other such cases across the U.S. The previous litigation against OPP, which lasted from 1969-2007, failed to bring the jail into compliance with the Constitution. We believe we must assert our clients’ rights on a day-to-day basis, raising their voices against continued mistreatment in violation of our Constitution.
Interim Compliance Director Darnley Hodge has asked the Court to grant him immunity from lawsuits brought by individual prisoners for damages suffered by them during his service as Compliance Director. On behalf of the class Plaintiffs, we oppose this motion.
The briefs are available here:
Our team reviews the periodic reports of the Independent Court Monitors, advising on incidents, trends, patterns and practices within OJC that violate the consent judgment or obstruct progress toward full compliance with the consent judgment. Monitor’s Report No. 8 is available here.
This order settled the motion for contempt filed by the Class Plaintiffs and the DOJ against the Sheriff’s Office. Instead of appointing a receiver, the settlement sets forth a procedure for appointment of an Independent Jail Compliance Director.
On the basis of our daily investigation of the Orleans Justice Center, our office, representing the Class Plaintiffs, and the U.S. Department of Justice, filed an extensive motion seeking to hold Sheriff Gusman in contempt for failing to implement the consent judgment.
This report provided crucial factual support for our motion to hold the Sheriff in contempt of court, which we filed a month later. Read the report here.
The consent judgment was approved by U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk on June 6, 2013, who stated: “The Court finds that the proposed consent judgment is the only way to overcome the years of stagnation that have permitted OPP to remain an indelible stain on the community, and it will ensure that OPP inmates are treated in a manner that does not offend contemporary notions of human decency.” Read the order here.
The consent judgment was a negotiated settlement between the Plaintiffs (both the class of prisoners and the DOJ) and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office “to address the constitutional violations alleged in this matter, as well as the violations alleged in the findings letter issued by the United States on September 11, 2009.”
The parties agreed that “The Orleans Parish Prison (“OPP”) is an integral part of the public safety system in New Orleans. Through the provisions of this Agreement, the Parties seek to ensure that the conditions in OPP protect the constitutional rights of prisoners confined there. By ensuring that the conditions in OPP are constitutional, the Sheriff will also provide for the safety of staff and promote public safety in the community.”
The areas covered by the consent judgment were: Protection from Harm, Mental Health Care, Medical Care, Sanitation and Environmental Conditions, Fire and Life Safety, Language Assistance, and Youthful Prisoners.
The consent judgment was subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk, the presiding judge in Jones v. Gusman.
Read the decree here.
The Department of Justice had previously issued two official letters to Orleans Parish Sheriff Gusman, making findings of numerous constitutional violations in the jail. But DOJ did not file a lawsuit on the basis of these letters. After Jones v. Gusman was filed, the DOJ agreed that the United States of America should be a co-plaintiff with the prisoners in the case. Read more here.
Because the Complaint alleged conditions that violated the rights of every man, woman and child in OPP, Katie Schwartzmann filed this motion to certify the case as a class action under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Read the motion here.
Before joining the MacArthur Justice Center, Katie Schwartzmann filed the Jones v. Gusman class action lawsuit, which alleged that the Sheriff was deliberately indifferent to a massive amount of constitutional violations relating to the physical safety, health, mental health, and other basic needs of the men, women and kids incarcerated in the Orleans Parish Prison. Read the complaint here.