In a victory for Louisianans with disabilities, today a federal court in New Orleans entered a consent decree requiring adequate treatment and care long denied to detainees with mental illness housed in the state's prisons. This agreement provides mental health care to those charged with crimes but lacking the mental capacity to stand trial. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of one detainee and the Advocacy Center, a non-profit corporation designated by the state to protect and advocate for persons with disabilities.
For years, pretrial detainees who needed restorative mental health treatment were denied such care because Feliciana Forensic Facility, the state facility providing that treatment, has been out of bed space. The lack of treatment beds meant that many detainees ordered by the courts into the custody of Feliciana have remained in local jails without the ability to go to trial, for periods sometimes exceeding a year, despite their presumed innocence. This settlement ensures that the detainees will now be transferred to Feliciana in a timely manner, so that they can have their day in court.
"For years, pretrial detainees with mental illness in Louisiana were denied court-ordered forensic care, which meant that sick people who had not been convicted of any crimes were languishing in our jails," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, which represents the plaintiffs. "Under this agreement, the most vulnerable among us will now have the care they need. It's long past time for the State of Louisiana to recognize its responsibility towards people with disabilities in its custody."
The settlement ensures a host of reforms. Inpatient treatment will now be provided within 30 days of a finding of need, so that detainees will no longer have to wait months or years for medical help. Procedures have been established to ensure that adequate testing will be administered promptly and that those with emergency mental health needs will be transferred to Feliciana within two working days of assessment. Those with lesser but urgent needs will be transferred within ten working days. Ongoing reporting will ensure that these procedures are met and that all who qualify will receive the appropriate level of care. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana will provide oversight for the implementation of the order.
"This case was designed to enforce state court orders that require detainees to receive treatment," said Marjorie Lindblom, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a private law firm that has represented the plaintiffs pro bono. "The people affected by this agreement must receive proper care so that their competence to stand trial can be restored, if possible. Until now they've been denied that care and kept in jail for months or years. They will now be assured the care they need, so that the justice system can work for all of us."
Lois Simpson, Executive Director of the Advocacy Center states: "The conclusion of this case ensures that hundreds of prisoners with mental illness get the mental health treatment they need. The Advocacy Center, Louisiana's Protection and Advocacy agency, will continue to advocate until all Louisianans with mental illness receive quality mental health treatment."
The plaintiffs were represented by ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann; Marjorie Lindblom, Maura Klugman, and Adam Humann from the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP; as well as Nell Hahn, Miranda Tait and Conception Otero from the Advocacy Center.
A copy of the Consent Decree is available here.