Regarding a recent article, "Judge says N.O. jail faces 'dire' crisis; Housing needed for inmates with mental health issues," the criminal justice system is obligated to house people only because of an accusation, their background and the risk to public safety. The fact that they have a health issue is of no moment. It is the responsibility of the health care system to provide health care, not the jail.

Decisions made by the health care system have caused the justice system to become the safety net for the mentally ill. We accepted the false notion that people who are mentally ill are a risk to public safety; that is simply not true.

In 2010 to 2011, when the Metropolitan Human Services District offered the sheriff its assistance in dealing with the mentally ill population, he turned it down.

A part of the determination of how to address the problem includes the sheriff creating a relationship with the health care community that surrounds the jail.

Let’s be clear: It is not exclusively the sheriff's responsibility. The district attorney, the public defender and the judges need to be sure that the only people housed in the jail are there because of what they are accused of, their background and their risk to public safety, not because they are sick.

Once the sheriff, district attorney, public defender and the judges do this triage of the population currently housed in the jail, then we can determine what else we need to do to care for those who remain.

Calvin Johnson

retired judge, former executive director, MHSD

New Orleans