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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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New Orleans seeks to strip Gusman of jail control

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 09, 2013 7:11 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Making good on plans announced last week, the city of New Orleans has asked a federal court to immediately appoint someone other than Sheriff Marlin Gusman to run the local jail.

The city's motion Tuesday to place the jail under federal receivership comes after last week's release of videos — apparently made by inmates — that show inmates using drugs and brandishing a gun in a cell; plus scenes of an inmate roaming Bourbon Street while boasting that he's supposed to be locked up.

The motion asks the court "to appoint a receiver to control all of the administrative, correctional and financial aspects of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison ("OPP") and related facilities — starting immediately." Among the reasons it cites are recent guilty pleas by two former jail officials to bribery charges, as well as the videos.

Gusman said the building where the 2009 videos were made — and from which the roaming inmate escaped — has been closed, and he noted that a new jail building is under construction.

Gusman has signed an agreement with the Justice Department to reform jail operations. The city opposes that agreement, saying it could force taxpayers to spend millions more on a poorly run jail. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also said the agreement's potential cost, by some estimates $22 million a year, would undermine reforms of the city police department and jeopardize other city services.

The Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents inmates who sued to improve jail conditions, are urging approval of the agreement, noting that funding issues will be sorted out during a hearing next month. They said testimony about sexual assaults, suicides, and beatings by guards and among prisoners is evidence of the need for the pact.

"The people of the city are investing over $225 million to build new prison facilities and over $30 million each year in taxpayer money to operate the jail," Landrieu said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "I cannot in good conscience cut vital services or raise taxes to put even more money into the operations of an office where waste, fraud, and abuse run rampant."

Gusman was not immediately available for comment on the receivership motion but he has defended his stewardship of the jail while saying the city has failed to fund it adequately.

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