NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Many people found not guilty by reason of insanity are being held in Louisiana jails, where they cannot get the treatment they need, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The suit filed in Baton Rouge names state health Secretary Kathy Kliebert and the Department of Health and Hospitals as defendants and asks certification as a class action.
The state attorney general's office and health department said they could not comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiffs are five men in the Jefferson Parish jail and one in the St. Tammany Parish jail.
They were found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges such as obscenity, aggravated arson and battery on a correctional official. All were committed to the state forensic mental hospital in Jackson.
Eighteen people currently jailed around the state are awaiting transfer to East Louisiana Mental Health System, DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said in an email.
The attorneys who filed the suit are Ronald Lospennato of the Advocacy Center in New Orleans, and Katie Schwartzman of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. They said they were not familiar with the case of Jeremiah Wright, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Feb. 14 in the death and beheading of his disabled 7-year-old son, Jori Lirette.
Wright told investigators that Lirette was a CPR dummy that had taken his son's place, police reports showed. Doctors said he could not tell right from wrong because of Capgras syndrome, a mental disorder in which people believe that an identical-looking impostor has replaced someone close to them.
Wright had been in the East Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson for most of the 2½ years since Lirette was killed on Aug. 14, 2011.
He was returned to the Lafourche Parish Jail when doctors said he was competent to stand trial. But there has not been room in the Jackson hospital since Feb. 14 for Wright's return.
The plaintiff jailed the longest also was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Feb. 14. Brandon Cooper, a schizophrenic who was first hospitalized for mental problems when he was a teenager, had been charged with two counts of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. In the St. Tammany Parish jail, "his mental health treatment is limited to monthly injections of Haldol," an anti-psychotic medication, the lawsuit said.
Schwartzman emphasized that the suit is an attempt to get the plaintiffs under the care of trained psychiatrists in secure forensic hospitals, for their safety and that of the public and other inmates.
"Under state law they could not be released without a judge finding them not to be a risk to the community (which is true now of persons housed even in parish jails)," she noted in an email.