Regarding a recent Advocate article, "Judge praises New Orleans jail reform push, but 'we do have a ways to go'": This seems to be a classic case of management by personalities instead of management by written policies/procedures. There’s no reason for vague, subjective observations, like things are “better” or “not better” or “worse.”
Every one of these topics of discussion should have outcome measures as defined by written court order, memorandum of agreement, policy and/or procedures validating the status of court-ordered improvements.
For example, there should be no question regarding needed review of critical incidents, which should include suicides, any deaths or serious injuries, inmate on inmate assaults, and staff/inmate assault or use of force. The reviews are called sentinel reviews and should be clearly proscribed in written policy and procedures that include purpose, process, responsible staff and required documentation. There should be a log of critical incidents and a file full of sentinel review reports. Simple.
Isn’t poor management the reason receivership hearings initially began? Without management change, this circus will continue at taxpayer expense.
The article also suggests New Orleans needs to construct a Phase III facility to house the “special needs” population. Why should taxpayers have any confidence that expanding or renovating the jail to accommodate seriously mentally ill people is needed when no one has identified precisely who or how many require special accommodation, and why they are jailed?
The lack of leadership to strategize and implement alternatives to incarceration for people with no-fault brain diseases is deeply concerning. Unlike many chronic diseases, brain diseases impact mental clarity and can produce unacceptable and sometimes violent behavior. The solution is to treat the illness, not punish the behavior. Incarceration is punishment and traumatic for people who are forced into dangerousness or grave disability by under-reliance on community treatment and over-reliance on jail.
If we treated the approximately 65% to 70% of seriously mentally ill people in jails (according to data we do have) in hospitals, we would have a “right-sized” jail with adequate staff to manage the population that the criminal justice system was designed for.
New Orleans should take a page out of the L.A. County playbook and begin immediately constructing a mental health treatment center run by the Department of Health Services rather than the Sheriff’s Department.
president, Healing Minds NOLA
Dr. Robert Powitzky