After seeing an increase in complaints regarding rapes and sexual assaults against gay and transgendered prisoners in the last few weeks, today the ACLU of Louisiana wrote to Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, urging him to protect gay and transgendered prisoners at his jails. Executive Director Marjorie Esman states, "Sheriff Gusman has a duty to protect everyone in his custody from sexual assault. Under present circumstances, if you are gay and you happen to be arrested in Orleans Parish, we recommend you try your best to post bond as quickly as possible, because you are at risk of rape in Orleans Parish Prison."
The increase in sexual assault coincide with Sheriff Gusman's recent disclosure of the troubling report on Orleans Parish Prison issued by the National Institute for Corrections ("NIC") in October. The NIC report states that prisoners are left to "fend for themselves," and "inmate supervision is sporadic." Sheriff Gusman released that report to the media on the same day that he was obligated to turn it over to the ACLU of Louisiana under a public records request. "We respect the fact that the Sheriff reached out to the National Institute of Corrections to ask for help, but are very disappointed that the problems identified in that report appear to continue," said Esman.
Marjorie Esman continued: "where guards do not supervise inmates, violence will occur. The rapes in OPP are a consequence of these shortcomings. As the NIC concluded, Sheriff Gusman must make certain that his guards do their jobs to ensure that inmates are safe." The ACLU supports the NIC's recommendation that "Management should emphasize the need for frequent, positive, informal, and respectful interactions with inmates."
It appears that the Sheriff's Office is not taking adequate steps to classify prisoners to keep them safe. At one time, gay and transgendered prisoners at OPP were housed in a separate tier to protect them from attack. Since Katrina, this practice has, by all accounts, been abandoned, with the result that sexual attacks appear to be on the rise. "While all prisoners should be safe without being segregated, given the resources available to the Sheriff's Office it appears that this might be the best way to protect gay and transgendered prisoners," said Esman. "We therefore urge Sheriff Gusman to reinstate this system as quickly as possible. Placing vulnerable people in harm's way must stop."