- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The apparent suicide of a New Orleans jail inmate this week demonstrates the need for more training of staff at the dangerous lockup where court-ordered reforms are progressing slowly, a federal judge said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk’s comments came during a hearing on the status of reforms at Orleans Parish Prison, where an inmate is believed to have strangled himself with a telephone cord late Monday.

The mother of 24-year-old Ryan Miler says a jail official told her the inmate had been left alone for a time when the strangulation occurred. The death remains under investigation.

Testimony from jail officials and monitors of the reform efforts indicate that violent incidents continue to be under-reported, that a lack of staffing makes it difficult to monitor inmates’ activities, and that a lack of proper training may have contributed to Miller being left alone in an attorney meeting room with a telephone after having expressed suicidal thoughts.

“The need for this training is driven home by the fact that an inmate is able to strangle himself with a telephone cord without being observed,” Africk said.

Africk presides over implementation of a 2013 jail reform plan, the result of an agreement between Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, and lawyers for inmates and the U.S. Justice Department. The agreement led to legal battles between Gusman and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration over jail funding, with Gusman saying the city won’t provide enough money and the city accusing Gusman of mismanagement.

The city recently objected to a contract the sheriff signed with a company providing jail health services. City officials agreed Thursday to make payments for the contract, but under protest while the objection is pending.

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