The federal judge overseeing the array of court-ordered reforms at Orleans Parish Prison formally appointed a team to monitor the plan’s progress on Monday, dismissing the sheriff’s objections to one expert and including him on the list.
All the parties involved — the sheriff, the mayor, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Department of Justice — had agreed on a lead monitor: Susan McCampbell, a former jailer who has overseen similar consent decrees in Chicago and Miami. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk wrote Monday that he independently evaluated her résumé and spoke with her, and agreed that she should lead the effort.
But Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, protested the inclusion of jail population specialist James Austin as one of five sub-monitors to oversee reforms to the inmate classification system, long scorned as a major factor in the jail’s notorious violence by failing to keep violent predators away from more vulnerable inmates.
Austin, who has been crunching New Orleans jail numbers over the past couple years, has testified in federal court on behalf of the city, against Gusman. The sheriff contended that he had “strong ties” to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which has been engaged in an intense battle with Gusman over management of the jail.
But Africk spoke to both McCampbell and Austin about the sheriff’s charges of a conflict, according to his order filed Monday. McCampbell told him that Austin is among the most highly regarded experts in the country, and he reassured the judge that he will work impartially with all parties. Africk appointed Austin to the team.
He also formally appointed the other four sub-monitors the parties had already agreed upon: Margo Frasier, the police monitor for the city of Austin, Texas, will oversee the office’s compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act; Dr. Robert Greifinger, a prison health care consultant, will oversee medical treatment reforms; Harry Grenawitzke, a public health expert, will oversee sanitation, conditions and fire safety; and Dr. Raymond Patterson, a professor of psychiatry at Howard and Georgetown universities, will oversee mental health care.
What remains uncertain is who is required to pay them, and how much they will charge.
McCampbell gave the city and sheriff a preliminary budget, and will work with the court to trim costs, the judge wrote. He did not specify the proposed amount though promised to make the final draft public “in the interest of transparency.”
The judge wrote Monday that he hopes to settle the controversial question over who will pick up the tab for jail funding over the rest of this year within a month.
Landrieu has blamed the jail’s troubles on Gusman’s mismanagement. Gusman counters that the city has been shortchanging him.
Africk on Monday gave all sides two weeks to reach an agreement on the interim funding issue, and warned that he would rule himself if they do not reach one. In an order, he also indicated he is considering splitting the costs for 2013 monitoring between the city and the sheriff.