Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a 21-page letter to Sheriff Marlin Gusman concerning the conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison. This letter follows the "Letter of Findings" dated September 11, 2009, which identified serious and persistent problems at OPP that amounted to numerous constitutional violations of prisoners' civil rights. This included inhumane and unsanitary living conditions; prisoner on prisoner violence and sexual assaults; inadequate suicide prevention, inadequate mental health care and inadequate services to limited English proficient prisoners; abuse by prison guards, as well as deliberate indifference to prisoner concerns and safety.
The letter dated April 23rd, 2012, states that Sheriff Gusman has done very little in the last two and a half years to remedy the problems. Worse, the Department of Justice found that Sheriff Gusman had "failed to seriously negotiate."
Despite Sheriff Gusman's response that DOJ is using individual accounts by prisoners to sensationalize and draw unnecessary attention to the situation. the fact is that the problems at OPP are systemic, persistent, and have not gone away even in the wake of the DOJ investigations.
The ACLU of Louisiana supports the DOJ and their findings. We are equally frustrated with the lack of progress at OPP over the last three years while prisoners continue to suffer intolerable, inhumane conditions and direct assaults on their constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. The people of New Orleans deserve to have their elected officials follow the law and cooperate with investigations.
The Attorney General is authorized to file suit in federal court if conditions don't improve. Sheriff Gusman's response to DOJ's findings and his apparent deliberate indifference for the safety of prisoners indicates that he is not willing to work with the DOJ or to make the necessary changes. The taxpayers should not have to fund a lawsuit to force Sheriff Gusman to comply with the law.