- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Prison experts say the New Orleans jail remains unacceptably violent and dangerous, even with roughly half its inmates farmed out to other lockups while a new director pursues court-ordered reforms.

Their report to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk this week, their first since Sheriff Marlin Gusman agreed to cede authority over the long-troubled lockup, illustrates the challenges faced by Gary Maynard, a former Maryland corrections official who was appointed by the judge to lead the reforms.

“The monitors are encouraged by some of the work accomplished to date,” the report says. The inmates are “marginally safer” than last year. But compliance with reforms the judge ordered in 2013 “has regressed,” and violence remains at “unacceptable levels.”

Troubling events have continued since Maynard took over in October, including a 15-year-old inmate’s suicide, the report noted, citing a continued need to improve medical and mental health treatment.

The jail also remains short on staff and money to train reinforcements, despite the jail’s relatively low population. The sheriff announced last year that that about half of the more than 1,100 inmates would be housed in other parts of the state. The actual jail population numbers vary from day to day.

The reduced jail population has given Maynard the opportunity to work on hiring and training deputies to staff the jail.

But it also means statistics indicating the jail is safer can be misleading. The monitors said jail officials point to various data indicating fewer inmate-on-inmate assaults, but don’t note that the jail population is down by roughly 50 percent.

Gusman had long waged political and legal fights with city leaders over the jail budget, which the city funds. The report acknowledged that the city and Maynard have worked to increase funding for the jail, but said concerns remain.

“While this process is laudable, it is the Monitors’ position that the funded positions for the jail may be insufficient for a Constitutional level of inmate care, custody and control,” the report said.

Monitors also expressed concern that needed training has been delayed, apparently due to funding uncertainties.

It also pointed to a continued need for training of jail staff to work with inmates with mental illness. And they said city officials have yet to say when work will begin on a facility to house inmates with special medical or mental health needs.

The monitors, led by corrections expert Susan McCampbell, were hired to oversee compliance with reforms Gusman agreed to in settling a lawsuit that inmates, joined by the U.S. Justice Department, filed against him over jail conditions.

“We have very serious concerns about the lack of progress at the Orleans jail,” Emily Washington, an attorney with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which advocates for inmates, said in an emailed statement. “We are committed to working with Director Maynard to move the jail forward, but we encourage him to leverage all available resources and to bring in additional support.”

Jail officials are expected to address the reform efforts at a court status conference next month.

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