Today the ACLU responded to Sheriff Jack Strain's statements about the use of cages on suicidal prisoners in his jail. In its letter, the ACLU of Louisiana stood by its allegations, noting that: "There is one fact that we agree upon: you are housing human beings in cages that are smaller than the St. Tammany Parish Code authorizes for dogs."
In the letter, Executive Director Marjorie Esman went on to write: "The use of these cages that do not allow people to lie down to sleep is inhumane, especially when used on suicidal prisoners. Dr. Inglese testified on June 22, 2010 in Advocacy Center, et al v. Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals that he is 'aware of people in St. Tammany who have been in our little suicide cell for weeks because there is no other safe place in our facility to house that person.' All that we ask is that the $2 million your office is bound to receive be used to create that 'safe place.'"
After reviewing the Sheriff's letter to the ACLU of Louisiana, Nell Hahn, Director of Litigation for the Advocacy Center-the State's leading organization advocating for people with disabilities-said: "The Advocacy Center understands the problems faced by local jails in dealing with mentally ill, suicidal inmates. There are best practices in the mental health field and in the field of jail suicide prevention that are clearly less restrictive, less dehumanizing, and less likely to discourage mentally ill inmates from seeking treatment than the cages used at the St. Tammany jail. These include the creation of special suicide resistant cells in which inmates who are actively suicidal can receive constant supervision. We would be happy to work with the Sheriff's office to try to find a better solution."
In an effort to get assistance for mentally ill people, the Advocacy Center and the ACLU recently sued the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to require it to promptly admit inmates who have been ordered to the State psychiatric hospital for treatment. The ACLU of Louisiana's letter concludes: "All we ask is that people be housed more humanely than dogs."
A copy of the open letter may be found here.