Regarding: “Gusman wants to move mentally ill inmates to state prison”:

The prospect of moving tens, possibly hundreds, of pretrial detainees 70 miles away while they await trial violates the detainees’ most basic, fundamental right to an attorney. Many, if not all, of these detainees suffer from serious mental health concerns and represent the most vulnerable population in the jail. They require heightened attention from their attorneys, social workers and advocates to ensure they receive effective representation and critical, necessary care. Public defenders, already beleaguered with heavy caseloads — in the hundreds for many — simply don’t have the resources to travel more than two hours multiple times a week.

The sheriff’s monitoring of privileged, confidential attorney-client phone calls has forced public defenders to abandon meaningful telephonic communications, increasing the need for in-person, face-to-face visits with pretrial detained clients. Recognizing the utmost importance of unrestricted attorney-client communications, judges have accommodated transport requests from attorneys for clients being held in other jurisdictions. As such, the sheriff’s plan must take into consideration the potentially vast personnel and additional costs of transporting pretrial detainees dozens of times a week. OPD’s attorneys make nearly 200 jail visits each week and this removal of access to clients could drastically slow court proceedings and endanger fair representation.

OPD, judges, the District Attorney’s Office and Pretrial Services have worked diligently together to increase the efficacy of the criminal justice system in recent years and this move by the sheriff will be a retreat from justice and fairness and a roadblock to an efficient and effective criminal justice system.

Derwyn Bunton

chief district defender, Orleans Public Defenders

New Orleans