Mental health still a problem at New Orleans jail

Associated PressJuly 14, 2014 

— Pain and suffering are still evident at the jail here, a year after a federal judge ordered reforms at the dangerous lockup, a psychiatrist testified Monday.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk stressed the urgency for changes, citing a weekend report of three jail guards requiring medical attention after they were cut by an inmate who wielded a homemade knife.

The hearing was focused on the cost of a short-term fix for the inadequate housing and treatment of mentally ill prisoners at a building known as Templeman Five.

Dr. Raymond Patterson, the court-appointed mental health monitor for the jail, said Templeman "compares poorly" to other urban jails in its handling of mentally ill inmates.

Asked about the costs, Patterson said: "I measure costs in human pain and suffering" and that is happening "right now" at Templeman.

The plan involves temporarily housing male inmates needing mental health treatment at the state's Elayne Hunt Correctional Center, some 80 miles away in St. Gabriel.

The sheriff and the city were once again at odds over how to fix the jail. Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman has said the city has failed to adequately fund the jail while an administration for Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said it has been mismanaged for years by Gusman.

The sheriff said Templeman is not suited to the constant supervision that mentally ill inmates need and that there is a facility at Hunt that could be more easily modified while new facilities are built in New Orleans.

Video of Templeman shown at the hearing by the court-appointed monitor displayed shower facilities that appeared dirty, floors with peeling linoleum and metal beds and fixtures that court experts said inmates could use to harm themselves.

Representing the city, lawyer Harry Rosenberg estimated the costs of Gusman's plan at around $2.8 million and said it could wind up costing the city from $338 to nearly $500 per prisoner per day. He said he based the estimate on fixed and ongoing costs suggested by the sheriff, including modifications to facilities at Hunt, the city's share of compensating guards who would oversee New Orleans mental health inmates and the cost of mental health personnel the city would have to provide for an inmate population expected to average around 18 per day.

Improvement of mental health treatment at the jail, formally known as the Orleans Parish Prison, is one element of an agreement Africk approved last year to settle a lawsuit by inmates and the U.S. Justice Department against Gusman. Before and after the agreement was approved, the city and the sheriff sparred over its costs and Gusman's management. The city at one point last year introduced an inmate-made video showing one inmate brandishing a loaded weapon and others using drugs.

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