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City And Advocates Discuss Mental Health Care Alternatives To Phase III Of The New Orleans Jail

Michael Isaac Stein
The Lens
From December, a handcuffed man is led toward the New Orleans jail.

For months prior to the city government’s announcement that it no longer intended to move forward with Phase III of the New Orleans jail — a proposed 89-bed facility that was intended to provide a space for people in custody with acute mental health needs, currently being held at a state prison — a group of advocates, health experts, and criminal justice actors was already meeting to discuss alternatives options.

That group has included criminal justice advocates and stakeholders, including representatives from the Vera Institute of Justice, the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) office, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), and Healing Minds NOLA, in addition to psychiatrists and first responders. Representatives from the mayor’s office have also been periodically involved.

The discussions have focused both on what necessary steps need to be taken to bring the jail into compliance with a federal consent decree over the jail with regards to mental health care, in addition to developing a broader and more holistic approach to mental health care in the city.

“We’ve been convening these conversations with the focus of addressing individuals who find themselves at the intersection of the criminal legal system and mental illness, and really just understanding that the high volume of people with mental illness in the jail represents that the jail is not the best facility or the best system to be responding to this health issue,” said Will Snowden, the director of Vera’s New Orleans office.

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