Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Department of Justice Reaches Agreement to Improve Conditions at St. Tammany Parish Jail in Louisiana

The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a comprehensive agreement with the Parish of St. Tammany, La., and the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff  to correct conditions of confinement at the St. Tammany Parish Jail and to ensure that improvements made since the Department’s investigation will be maintained.  The St. Tammany Parish Jail is located in Covington, La., and houses approximately 1,000 adult male and female prisoners.   The jail is staffed by approximately 225 sworn law enforcement officers and civilian employees. 

The agreement outlines significant remedial measures to address deficiencies in correctional mental health care and suicide prevention.  Under the terms of the agreement, St. Tammany will work to ensure that prisoners are safe and receive care and services necessary to meet their constitutional rights.  The agreement underscores the Parish’s obligation to protect prisoners the substantial risk of serious harm.

“We commend Sheriff Jack Strain, St. Tammany Parish President Patricia Brister, and other St. Tammany officials for their willingness to work aggressively to address the problems identified during the course of our investigation,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division. “Based on the productive relationship we have established to date, we expect to continue to work cooperatively with St. Tammany to improve conditions of confinement at this facility.”

In April 2011, the Justice Department initiated its investigation of the St. Tammany Jail under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA).  The Department issued its findings in July 2012, concluding that certain conditions at St. Tammany violated prisoners’ constitutional rights to adequate mental health care, including adequate suicide prevention. 

Today’s agreement comprehensively addresses the department's findings through an in-depth focus on the systemic problems that caused the unconstitutional conditions at the jail.  The agreement also builds on improvements made by St. Tammany during the department’s investigation, most notably the removal of small booking cages that had been used for the confinement of suicidal prisoners and the construction of a specialized housing unit to manage and monitor prisoners in mental health crisis. The agreement requires:

  • Improved screening and assessments of prisoners with serious mental health needs.

 

  • Adequate and timely mental health treatment for prisoners, including group or individual therapy services, better monitoring when medication is administered to prisoners and follow-up and crisis services.

 

  • Improved suicide precautions.

 

  • Enhanced staff training on mental health and suicide prevention.

 

  • The collection and tracking of data to identify triggers and trends involving suicide and self-injurious behavior, with the goal of preventing or reducing further incidents.

 

  • The appointment of an independent auditor, jointly selected by St. Tammany and the department, with expertise in the areas covered by this agreement.  As part of overseeing the implementation of the agreement, the independent auditor will periodically inspect the facility for compliance and provide technical assistance to St. Tammany staff.

CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state and local governments.  In addition to adult and juvenile correctional facilities, these institutions include psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities.  CRIPA’s focus is on systemic deficiencies rather than individual, isolated problems.  Please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about CRIPA and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

The investigation of the St. Tammany Parish Jail was conducted by Corey M. Sanders, Trial Attorney in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.

Related Material:

            Findings Letter: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/documents/tammany_findings_7-12-12.pdf

13-929