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Experts say violence remains a major problem inside the new $150 million jail in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS — Violence remains a major problem inside the new $150 million jail in New Orleans, experts told a federal judge Tuesday.

Outside corrections experts told U.S. District Judge Lance Africk that the move into the new jail last September has not reduced violence among inmates or the use of force by deputies, The New Orleans Advocate reported (http://bit.ly/1JVJb3K).

The experts made their statements at a court hearing as part of a federal consent decree to improve conditions at the jail.

Susan McCampbell, the expert overseeing reforms, told Africk that "the staff are not in control" of the jail, the newspaper reported.

She added that the move to the new jail — the Orleans Justice Center — has not reduced violence.

"We had been very hopeful that when the new jail opened there would be a decrease in the level of inmate-inmate violence and uses of force (by deputies) in the facility," McCampbell said. "I'm here to tell you that has not happened."

Sheriff Marlin Gusman has argued that he does not have enough staff because the city refuses to give his deputies a pay raise.

He briefly testified at the hearing about the staffing crisis that prompted him to recently move several hundred inmates to jails in northeastern Louisiana.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Gusman's office said it was "committed to improving in cooperation with the consent decree monitor."

The sheriff's office also said "the common thread among all issues" facing the sheriff's office is inadequate pay.

"The Sheriff's Office must be properly funded so that our professionals aren't the lowest paid deputies in the entire region," Gusman said in the statement.

McCampbell said the new jail is severely understaffed and that the deputies Gusman has on duty "do not know how to run" the jail. The lockup has 1,438 beds.

The new jail was designed to allow deputies to better supervise inmates, but staffing shortages and poor training have prevented that from occurring, according to the monitors. As a consequence, McCampbell said scores of attacks are going unreported and even ignored by investigators.

McCampbell said her team recently discovered a medical log that revealed as many as 119 incidents at the new jail that had not been reported to the monitors or sheriff's office leaders, including "things like broken hands, needs for stitches."

Margo Frasier, a former sheriff in Austin, Texas, who is monitoring practices at the jail, told Africk that the sheriff's office touted low numbers of attacks "as an indication of success," when in fact the actual rate of violence appears to be far worse.

"I'm starting to get more frustrated with the slow pace" of reforms, Africk, the judge presiding over changes outlined in a consent decree between the sheriff's office and the U.S. Department of Justice, said, according to the newspaper.

"We can't continue down this path."


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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