DOJ critical of St. Tammany Parish Jail mental health services

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 17 at 11:01 AM

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

COVINGTON, La. -- For more than a year now, the St. Tammany Parish Jail has been the focus of a federal investigation.

The Department of Justice released a 22-page report Monday detailing the results of that investigation.

The document outlines failures found inside the jail starting in April 2011. Examples include poor mental health screening policies, less-than-qualified people doing those screenings and inappropriate housing for prisoners who may be suicidal.

The report details stories of prisoners waiting months before being evaluated for mental health issues or receiving treatment for those issues, and being placed in general population despite known mental health needs.

At the same time, the report commends the sheriff's office for "significant and long overdue" remedies to those problems, already in place before the investigation was even over.

Those include a new suicide database, increased psychiatric staffing and constructing suicide-resistant cells.

Sheriff Jack Strain wrote in a response to the report Monday, the DOJ's findings are "filled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and outright lies."

Strain did not want to go on-camera with Eyewitness News, but said the mental health care in his facility exceeds what's available to St. Tammany's citizens. He said dozens of suicides occur each year, compared to the two that occurred within the jail over the past five years.

Strain takes particular issue with the DOJ continuing its investigation despite changes underway.

"To have still issued strict admonitions for perceived violations that no longer even exist seems a waste of resources and a stubborn display of federal authority," Strain said.

He also challenges the report's continued concerns over future mental health care at the jail by pointing out that it was recently chosen by U.S. Marshals and U.S. Immigration as the primary facility to house their federal inmates in the area.

Strain finishes his response by vowing to continue to work with the DOJ on any additional changes, regardless, but adds, "I truly believe we now stand as a model to other correctional facilities throughout the nation. I hope you agree."

The DOJ notes in its report that if it is not satisfied with the jail's progress, a lawsuit by the attorney general is possible.

 

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