Settlement creates new safeguards for prison detainees

This is a graphic in shape of Louisiana with portions of the state flag inside.

A New Orleans court mandated April 13 that the state of Louisiana improve care for people with mental illnesses in its state prison.

The consent decree requires that the state provide inpatient treatment within 30 days for individuals unable to stand trial due to mental illnesses. The state must also submit monthly reports for three years to a lawyer appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in April 2010 by the Advocacy Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana on behalf of an individual who was not receiving treatment because the prison had not funded enough treatment beds to cover all its patients. As a result, the individual, as well as other people with mental illnesses in the prison, were subjected to prolonged custody in the facility in violation of their due process rights, according to the settlement.

“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, in a news release. “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 Advocacy Center is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.