On Friday, March 5, 2021, members of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition issued a statement encouraging the City-Parish’s medical request for proposal and supporting a COVID-19 lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees.
The members stood in front of the Russell B. Long Federal Building and United States Courthouse, site of the first Louisiana state prison, with signs stating the current prisoner death toll since 2012 (44 deaths) and a picture of Jonathan Fano, the second individual whose horrific death occurred while housed at the prison.
“This announcement of a formalized proposal process has been a hard-fought victory for the Coalition and ultimately the entire parish. The news that our City-Parish has finally issued the formal solicitation of competitive proposals to finally provide adequate, quality healthcare to those in custody is far overdue.” said Ava Smith, member of the EBRPPRC Steering Committee.
EBR Parish Prison receives medical services from CorrectHealth LLC, a private company. According to The Advocate, the contract with CorrectHealth was issued without use of a standard RFP or vetting process, although the company was award the contract in January 2017. The first death occurred in January 2017 and the second in February 2017 and to date there have been 19 deaths, including noted artist and chef Shaheed Claiborne, son of the Baton Rouge civil rights activist Betty Claiborne in January 2020.
Investigations of detainees deaths
According to a news release from the EBR Parish Prison Reform Coalition, in July 2018 Promise of Justice Initiative, released an investigation into abnormally high deaths at the jail. Shortly thereafter the Parish Prison Reform Coalition began its medical taskforce, which organized around the issue of medical treatment at the jail. The Coalition organized multiple jail tours in 2019 in partnership with the 19th JDC bringing subject matter experts on mental health, carceral healthcare, lockdown/solitary, etc., to review and examine processes at the jail. EBRPPRC and many community partners addressed the Metro Council and pressed for the investigation into CorrectHealth practices. By the fall of 2019, the EBRPPRC medical taskforce identified several egregious failures of the current provider and demanded a full investigation and monitoring of the medical and mental health protocols within the jail.
Following a suicide death in January 2020, the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition made another request for a full investigation and monitoring of the health protocols within the jail and the immediate de-accreditation of CorrectHealth. In addition the EBRPPRC has a current public awareness campaign to insure that a company with CorrectHealth’s track record is not considered during this latest round of procurement.
During the March 5th press conference, the Coalition reiterated its support for the Motion to Reconsider filed on behalf of plaintiffs incarcerated at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. The federal class action lawsuit, Belton v. Gautreaux, was brought by the Advancement Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, Hogan Lovells, the Claiborne Firm, and Bill Quigley of Loyola University New Orleans College. This motion to reconsider urged a federal judge to reinstate a lawsuit filed against the prison for its failure to adequately protect them from the spread of COVID-19, and seeking CDC-compliant protective measures in light of the pandemic crisis, organizers explained. Some measures taken by the prison, purportedly to manage virus transmission, have even increased the potential for infection. Twice daily, during roll call and pill distribution and – ironically – during a few, fleeting weeks when the jail provided daily temperature checks, prisoners are forced to stand close together in lines. Masks are infrequently and inadequately cleaned – and then redistributed among the prisoners. The jail even rejected a donation of N95 masks, stated the Rev. Alexis Anderson, member of the EBRPPC via press release.
According the the release, attorneys note that the jail’s medical neglect is even more constitutionally problematic because 80 percent of those detained at the jail are being held in pre-trial detention, and are therefore entitled to greater constitutional protections.
It also states: Many of the people detained at the jail have been held in supposed “COVID-19 isolation wings” in a formally condemned portion of the prison. Re-opened to house symptomatic prisoners, these spaces are filthy and unsafe, plagued with black mold, large rats and spiders, and “questionably potable” water. Symptomatic prisoners have been confined in these cells nearly 24-hours-a-day, did not receive regular medical assessments, and, when asking for extra time out of this solitary confinement to shower or make phone calls, were beaten, maced, and threatened by guards.
The Coalition has urged the City–Parish to utilize all tools at its disposal to address the critical issues around COVID-19 in the jail including daily monitoring, oversight by the Louisiana Department of Health, and inclusion of the jail in the LSU Wastewater Project funded by the Parish.
Issues to address
Coalition leaders said many of the detainees who are put into harm’s way should not be in the jail and the community must address the issues that lead to mass incarceration.
- A user pay system that invites over-policing for non-public safety issues such a non-driving traffic offenses
- Criminalizing of quality-of-life issues such as behavioral health, addiction and homelessness
- Unconstitutional use of cash bond that penalizes low income individuals
- Failure to administratively address the over 100,000 outstanding warrants in Baton Rouge City Court (a misdemeanor court) and the over 30,000 traffic warrants in the 19th JDC Traffic Court
- Failure to address and overhaul our “police state of 32 different law enforcement agencies” in a parish of less than 500,000 citizens that treat “certain” citizens accused of crimes as guilty prior to any day in court and allows law enforcement to serve as accuser, judge and jury in communities of color and amongst marginalized populations.
About the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition
The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition advances solutions and works collaboratively with criminal justice coalitions to reduce mass incarceration and to uphold the basic human rights of those incarcerated at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and their families through education, advocacy, transparency and accountability.
In the Coalitions vision, all citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish live in safe, thriving communities where incarceration is rare and every person has the opportunity to succeed. The East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is a safe and secure environment for both law enforcement and those incarcerated.