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Federal monitor says progress has been made, but Orleans jail remains dangerous

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NEW ORLEANS — The monitor overseeing reforms at the New Orleans jail says progress has been made, but the jail remains a dangerous place, still plagued by inmates' assaults on each other and on jail staff, attempted suicides, and allegations of sexual assault.

Susan McCampbell's latest report, a 130-page document, was filed Wednesday in federal court. It says health and mental health care at the facility remains insufficient, while sanitation and cleanliness are poor.

The court is overseeing implementation of an agreement approved in 2013 between the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and lawyers for inmates and the U.S. Justice Department.

The report cites numerous unresolved issues with a new jail that has yet to open. It remains unclear how some groups of inmates, including mentally ill and juvenile detainees, will be separated from the general population.

The report said the new jail is now projected to open in late April, but that isn't certain. And McCampbell's report said "there is substantial work remaining to prepare the staff and inmates, complete policies and procedures, write post orders, and develop lesson plans."

McCampbell also said continued battles over budget matters between the city, which funds the jail, and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs it, also contribute to the slow pace of compliance.

The reform agreement was approved in 2013 by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to settle a lawsuit by inmates and the U.S. Justice Department against Gusman over conditions at the jail, formally known as Orleans Parish Prison. Before and after the agreement was approved, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the sheriff sparred over its costs and Gusman's management of the facility.

"The ongoing disagreements and disputes regarding fiscal resources between the Sheriff and the City divert time, resources, and focus from achieving the important compliance goals," the report said. "The cumulative result of this contentious environment is OPSO staff are, in the view of the Monitors, reaching a burnout point when these multiple priorities are ongoing and unresolved."

Staff shortages, including the failure so far to replace a chief of corrections who resigned in December, have been a factor in failing to meet reform agreement compliance goals, the report said. The report echoed concerns McCampbell expressed at a December status hearing.

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