The U.S. Bureau of Prisons plans to send about 200 chronically ill and aging inmates to a leprosy research facility that houses 180 patients suffering from the disease, the government said.

The leprosy patients will continue to live at the 300-acre facility in Carville, La., but will be segregated from the federal inmates, said the Department of Health and Human Services. The inmates will move in next year, said a bureau of prisons spokesman."Obviously we're not going to mix civilians in with convicted felons," said Greg Bogdan, a spokesman for the bureau of prisons.

The federal inmates, who suffer from ailments such as rheumatism and heart disease, will receive long-term medical care at HHS's Gillis W. Long Hansen's Disease Center.

Hansen's Disease is another name for leprosy.

HHS announced the agreement with the Bureau of Prisons in which the center will provide residential and clinical services to low-security prisoners.

The number of leprosy patients at the center has declined from 300 to 180 over the past five years. It will take several months to make the facility secure for accommodating convicts, said Bogdan.

The bureau of prisons has a shortage of long-term medical care facilities and the government basically is "turning it into a federal prison hospital," said Paul Simmons, a spokesman for the U.S. Public Health Service.

The 200 inmates will be "aging prisoners . . . This is a humanitarian thing," Simmons added.

Most federal convicts in need of long-term medical care now are housed at crowded facilities in Springfield, Mo., and Fort Worth, Texas.