Louisiana is once again failing to provide timely inpatient treatment for people accused of certain crimes but who lack the mental capacity to stand trial, a group of civil rights lawyers alleged Monday in another federal lawsuit against the state.
A similar suit, filed in 2010, prompted a federal consent decree to get people found incompetent to stand trial relocated into the state mental hospital more quickly to get their competency restored.
Now, the kinds of delays that existed at the turn of the decade have resurfaced, lawyers with the Advocacy Center of Louisiana and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans complained in the suit filed Monday in Baton Rouge federal court.
Advocacy Center attorney Ronald Lospennato said people with mental illness found incompetent to stand trial are languishing in parish jails for months.
Records provided by the state Department of Health and Hospitals indicate 22 people were waiting in jails for treatment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System, a state mental facility in Jackson, as of Oct. 23, and four of them have been waiting for more than 40 days, according to the suit filed Monday.
“They’re stuck,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center. “They can’t defend themselves in a court of law because they’ve been found incompetent, but they also can’t get the treatment they need to restore their competency.”
The latest lawsuit comes 15 months after the same lawyers claimed in a suit that the state is unconstitutionally slow when it comes to transferring mental ill people out of parish jails and into the state hospital after they’ve been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick has been asked to consolidate the suits filed Monday and in August 2014. She presides over both.
A DHH spokesperson could not be reached for comment. The department has said repeatedly that it does not comment on pending litigation.
Lospennato said prisons and jails are not designed or equipped for prisoners with mental illness.
“Due to cuts in state funding for mental health services, the number of incarcerated men and women with severe mental illness has grown tremendously in recent years,” he said. “That’s why the law requires that persons with mental illness who are found incompetent to stand trial must be transferred to a mental health facility for treatment.”
Monica Jackson, 32, of Orleans Parish, is the named plaintiff in the suit filed Monday. She has been jailed since August on a theft of a motor vehicle charge without any mental health treatment or medication, the suit alleges. She was ordered to the state psychiatric hospital Oct. 1 but remains jailed in New Orleans.
“There are many others in her same situation,” Schwartzmann said.