New Orleans jail investigation urged in report

Published 12:17 am Monday, August 20, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Almost two years since Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish Prison remains ‘‘dangerously ill prepared’’ to handle another emergency, and overcrowding and medical services continue to be problems, a new report says.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a report being released Monday, urged the federal government to investigate what it called inadequate medical and mental health care for prisoners and local officials to close the House of Detention, calling the building ‘‘dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, leading to unsafe and unsanitary conditions.’’

The group, which cites interviews, news stories and legal and public documents in its report, also urged a federal review of the jail’s emergency readiness plan.

Email newsletter signup

Similar recommendations were made last year after the ACLU and other organizations released a report on jail conditions leading to and following Katrina.

The ACLU’s latest report said the Orleans Parish Prison is ‘‘in a constant state of crisis.’’ It cites the claims of prisoners, including a woman who said she was left in restraints for up to 11 hours and a man with ‘‘severe mental health issues’’ who had trouble getting medication while detained.

‘‘Notwithstanding serious deficiencies in the provision of mental health care at OPP, the absence of community mental health services has left the jail as the city’s largest provider of psychiatric services,’’ the report said.

Mayor Ray Nagin has said New Orleans faces a crisis in providing emergency and mental health care since the Aug. 29, 2005, and asked both state and federal governments for further help addressing it.

The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office, on its Web site, said it has doctors and nurses onsite and that inmates can request medical care by filling out a form. The Web site also says three psychiatrists staff a psychiatric unit. It wasn’t immediately clear how current the posting was.