- Associated Press - Thursday, June 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Court-ordered reform efforts at the violent New Orleans jail - the site of three suicides and a drug overdose death in less than two years - are on the right track, the federal judge who ordered the reforms said Thursday.

But U.S. District Judge Lance Africk’s assessment was far from rosy.

“Decades of neglect cannot be erased overnight,” he said during a hearing on reform efforts. “Future tragedies and tears are inevitable.”

Africk expressed confidence that Gary Maynard, a veteran prison official who assumed control of the jail last fall, will lead a successful effort to curb inmate violence, reduce the use of force by guards, bolster security and improve medical and mental health treatment for inmates.

Inmate advocates, joined by the U.S. Justice Department, filed a lawsuit over jail conditions that resulted in a reform agreement in 2012 with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlon Gusman, the elected official charged with running the jail. Africk approved the agreement in 2013 but implementation has been slow, and marked by political and legal disputes between Gusman and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

The city funds the jail. Gusman complained of too little financial support, while administration officials and attorneys were highly critical of Gusman’s management.

City officials had joined inmate lawyers in calling for Africk to place the jail in receivership, essentially removing it from Gusman’s control. Gusman avoided that move last year with his agreement to cede authority over the jail to a “compliance director.” Gusman and others agreed that Maynard, whose history includes a stint as head of corrections in Maryland, would be right for the job. He began work in October.

Under Gusman, problems had continued even after prisoners were moved to a brand new facility in September 2015.

A report filed early last month by experts assigned to monitor the jail said it remains violent and dangerous.

Troubling incidents included the October suicide of a 15-year-old murder suspect, the second suicide since the new jail opened, and a February drug overdose death. Since the report was filed, there has been another inmate suicide.

“Needless to say, 15-year-olds should not be hanging themselves in the jail,” Africk said Thursday as he recounted the lockup’s myriad problems.

Maynard is overseeing a major recruitment and training effort at the jail. Meanwhile, about half of more than 1,100 inmates at the jail, known formally as the Orleans Justice Center, are being housed in other areas.

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