- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A coalition of prison reform advocates and civil rights groups is asking a federal judge to create a community oversight board to investigate complaints about New Orleans’ troubled jail.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk is scheduled to hear arguments next week on a request by the Justice Department and inmate advocates to appoint a third-party “receiver” to operate the jail instead of elected Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

A court filing earlier this week by civil rights groups says a community oversight board should be created regardless of whether Africk appoints a receiver.

The jail is notorious for decades of problems, including suicides and violence endangering prisoners and staff.

The groups say the board should be able to subpoena witnesses and documents, visit the jail, review procedures and make recommendations on jail operations.

“Jails are inherently places controlled by the government. But in a democratic system, jails must also be public so they can be held accountable,” says the motion filed Wednesday by Bill Quigley, a civil rights lawyer and Loyola law school professor. “Community oversight is a strong instrument for keeping public institutions transparent and accountable.”

Among the groups seeking court-ordered creation of the committee are advocates for inmates, former inmates and inmates’ families, along with women’s rights groups and an organization providing support for Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender youths.

The board, as envisioned by the groups, would be appointed by the New Orleans City Council from nominations made by community organizations.

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