- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The sheriff who runs New Orleans’ notoriously dangerous jail has reached an agreement with inmates’ lawyers and federal attorneys to help speed up slow-progress on court-ordered reforms, successfully avoiding a possible contempt of court fight.

The agreement was filed Friday in federal court and is subject to a judge’s approval. It includes a requirement that Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office submit a plan by April 30 for opening a new $145 million jail facility.

Gusman has said the new building will go a long way toward solving problems at the current, aging jail complex. But the opening date has been delayed, in part because the building did not include facilities to separate juveniles and dangerous inmates from the general jail population.

Friday’s filing is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by inmate advocates, later joined by the U.S. Justice Department, over conditions at the jail, formally known as the Orleans Parish Prison.

A settlement agreement was approved by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk in 2013. The agreement, known as a consent decree, calls for Gusman to provide adequate medical and mental health care for inmates while overhauling policies on use of force and rape prevention, among other reforms.

Court approval followed discovery of an inmate-made video showing blatant drug use and the brandishing of a loaded gun in a now-closed section of the jail complex.

Implementation of the agreement has been slow-going, marked at times by court fights between Gusman and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration over funding for the jail.

A report last August by independent monitor Susan McCampbell said inmates and staff at the lockup “continue to face grave harm.”

Court records show that Gusman was notified in August that lawyers for inmates and the Justice Department were considering seeking a contempt citation. That led to months of negotiations and Friday’s latest agreement, which was awaiting Africk’s approval.

The agreement calls for Gusman to provide the court with regular updates on progress. It sets timelines for new steps to ensure that youthful offenders are properly overseen and that deputies in charge of mentally ill inmates are properly trained.

In August, McCampbell’s report said 361 out of about 2,000 inmates required emergency medical care in the first six months of 2014 and that 200 of them were injured due to fights with other inmates, self-inflicted harm or an unspecified event. It also said the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t reporting to the monitor all serious incidents involving inmate harm, as required under the court agreement.

Friday’s document includes a requirement that McCampbell’s office receive reports within 24 hours of inmate deaths, suicides or suicide attempts, inmate assaults or allegations of misconduct by deputies or jail contractors.

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