Lawsuit hopes to better enforce mental health treatment for inmates

Lawsuit hopes to better enforce mental health treatment for inmates

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday seeks a court order to provide inmates with mental illness who are incarcerated in parish jails access to mental health treatment ordered by the court.

The lawsuit identifies six men who are incarcerated in parish prisons even though, months ago, the courts ordered that they be provided mental health treatment in a psychiatric hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. The case was filed as a class action on behalf of those six and all others with mental illnesses also being incarcerated in parish prisons across the state.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys for the Advocacy Center and Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans. It alleges that the state has violated the prisoners' constitutional rights to due process as well as their rights protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“All of these men need mental health treatment, but the state has ignored judges' orders to provide the help that they need,” said Ronald K. Lospennato, an attorney with the Advocacy Center. “Prisons are not mental health facilities. They do not have the capacity to help these men who have spent months in jail cells where, at best, they receive only drugs to control them. Even though they have not been convicted of any crime and there are no criminal charges pending, Louisiana is denying them treatment and intentionally subjecting them to punishment by incarceration.”

The suit was filed against the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) which operates state psychiatric hospitals and maintains the waiting list.

“When someone is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the law requires that they either be released or sent to a facility for mental health treatment,” said Katie Schwartzmann, Co- Director of the MacArthur Justice Center's office in New Orleans. “When a judge orders someone sent to the state hospital, it is the state's obligation to take custody of that person and provide treatment. The state is not living up to its obligation, and people are sitting in our local jails unnecessarily and illegally. In addition to being illegal, this is bad public policy and expensive for taxpayers, because people are warehoused for months on end, often in horrible conditions.”

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