Judge slams treatment of mentally ill at Louisiana prison

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Louisiana prison’s treatment of its mentally ill prisoners — including inadequate care, incomplete medical records and extended stays in solitary confinement — violates federal law and the Constitution, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote’s 165-page ruling says officials at the David Wade Correctional Center used solitary confinement, also known as “prolonged lockdown,” as “a depot” for mentally ill inmates, which which only aggravates their mental illnesses.

The Shreveport judge’s decision, dated Tuesday, is the latest development in a 2018 lawsuit filed by criminal justice attorneys on behalf of inmates at the Claiborne Parish Jail in northern Louisiana. His findings were based on evidence of treatment of prisoners before March 2020. Next in the case comes an “appeal phase” in January during which the state will have to show what it has done to correct the problems. After that, the court will step in to impose changes if necessary, Foote wrote.

The state denied the charges in the lawsuit. “We strongly disagree with the decision,” Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Ken Pastorick said in an email. He declined to comment further, citing ongoing litigation.

Melanie Bray, lead attorney in the Disability Rights Louisiana case, applauded the decision.

“When people with mental illness are sent to state prison as punishment for a crime, the state has an obligation to provide basic mental health care,” Bray said in a press release. . “The evidence in this case showed that there was virtually no mental health care at the DWCC, and that the men there suffered tremendously due to state indifference.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, the Promise of Justice Initiative, and the law firms Adams & Reese and Cohen Milstein also worked on the case.

Foote rejected claims by inmates’ attorneys that prison officials retaliated against inmates involved in the lawsuit, or that First Amendment rights were violated by mail censorship.

But she strongly criticized the prison’s treatment of mentally ill inmates, saying they were “deliberately indifferent” while housing inmates in inhumane conditions. Those conditions violated Eighth Amendment protections against cruel punishment, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Foote said.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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