- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The man who operates New Orleans’ jail is asking a court to make sure various drawings and blueprints of jail facilities are kept secret while discussions continue on the housing of mental health patients held at the facility.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s attorneys made the request in a federal court filing Friday. The filing was made as the court oversees a reform plan for the jail - the result of a lawsuit brought by inmate advocates and the U.S. Justice Department.

Gusman’s filing says jail blueprints exchanged during discussions on the mental health issue include details that could affect security. They include areas of refuge for deputies and the locations of entries, exits and stairwells and their linked control points.

The New Orleans Advocate reports ( http://bit.ly/1pmOASQ) that Gusman is in talks with state corrections officials about relocating some mentally ill inmates to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, a state prison in St. Gabriel prison, potentially removing scores of detainees from conditions deemed unlawful by a federal judge.


The inmates could stay there for months or even years while Gusman seeks to build a detention facility that could accommodate inmates in need of acute mental health care.

It’s not clear how the sheriff would finance that construction, and the plan collides with a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to retrofit part of a new $145 million jail building nearing completion so it could provide acute mental health treatment.

Pam Laborde, a state Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman, said the available space at Elayn Hunt “would be utilized for inmates with mental health issues,” with the Sheriff’s Office responsible for all costs. Laborde said she didn’t have any more details “because this is still in the preliminary stages.”

Gusman’s spokesman, Philip Stelly, said the Sheriff’s Office has not made any concrete proposals and has been discussing several options with state officials, including the possibility of “some inmate classifications” being sent to a state facility.

The discussions come amid increasing concerns voiced by the U.S. Department of Justice and the attorneys for the inmates who filed a landmark lawsuit against Gusman that resulted in the wide-ranging federal consent decree. In court filings, they say uncertainty over the jail’s future has stranded a vulnerable group in a dangerous facility.

The consent decree, which took effect in October, required Gusman to implement counseling services and comprehensive treatment plans for inmates suffering from serious mental illness, but the sheriff has not fully complied. Monitors say the current building that houses them is ill-suited for monitoring, because deputies can’t see all prisoners easily.

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com