Filed Under:  Local

Judge asked to force City to build housing for mentally ill inmates

29th September 2015   ·   0 Comments

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office on Thursday filed a motion in Federal Court to force the City of New Orleans to begin construction on a special-needs facility at the new Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office Complex.

After the filing, the City of New Orleans released a statement that said the Landrieu administration had offered to spend$3.7 million in federal disaster aid to rebuild the docks.

In a Thursday press release, the OPSO said the Landrieu administration is claiming Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman is requesting an additional $85 Million, when in fact, the money has already been allocated by FEMA with the direct purpose of building the special needs facility, which will house mentally ill inmates.

“The funds to build a facility to care for mentally ill inmates have been available for years. Two years ago, the City agreed to use these funds for this new facility and address a mental health problem that everyone agrees is a serious need in our city. The City even gave its word to do so in front of a federal court. Now they have amnesia and are trying to revise history. What’s worse, they could seriously be trying to take the people of New Orleans for fools,” said James Williams, legal counsel for the OPSO.

According to the OPSO press release, the City of New Orleans has other plans for the money, including a golf course club house.

The press release goes on to say that the City also fails to mention that in 2013, it agreed a phase 3 facility was needed to house mentally ill inmates, during interviews and by way of a settlement agreement.

The Federal Court filing included the following language:

“…Mayor Landrieu will recommend to the City Council that Ordinance 2482 should be amended to permit the continued construction of the 1,438-bed facility without requiring it to house all classifications of inmates.… until a Phase 3 facility can be opened to house special populations.”

The OPSO press release points to an interview with the media on Aug. 6, 2013 during which Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin reportedly agreed that it was smarter to build an additional facility to house the mentally ill:

“At this point in the process, our view is to finish the (housing) building, then build something else.” Kopplin said. “Rather than redesign it and change it, let’s build smarter. We don’t want to delay construction of the building. It’s not efficient to retrofit something.”

In addition, the Mental Health Working Group, a committee of experts tasked by U.S. Judge Africk to determine the best way to provide mental health services to inmates, unanimously agreed that an additional special needs facility was needed. The group was made up of representatives nominated by both the Mayor and the Sheriff.

“The City’s statement today that ‘tax payers shouldn’t have to pay for a facility to house state inmates’ is another mistruth,” the OPSO said in last week’s statement. “The phase 3 facility will be constructed to house mentally ill inmates.”

“The City’s routine of ignoring agreements they made — from renovating the docks at OPP, properly funding adequate pay for OPSO deputies to building a treatment and care facility for inmates in need of mental health care — is worn out and tiresome. For once, we want the City to follow through on something they committed to do,” Williams said.

U.S. Judge Lance Afrik is overseeing a federally mandated consent decree aimed at overhauling Orleans Parish Prison.

Landrieu and some members of the New Orleans City Council have opposed Gusman’s efforts to build a third, 380-bed building at the center of the jail, arguing that New Orleans incarcerates too many people.

This article originally published in the September 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.