FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION
The Promise of Justice Initiative
JUDGE GRANTS MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION IN SUIT AGAINST
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONS
OVER UNCONSTITUTIONALLY DEFICIENT MEDICAL CARE AND MISTREATMENT OF INMATES WITH DISABILITIES
NEW ORLEANS – Prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (Angola) are entitled to proceed with a class action alleging that they needlessly suffer from chronic pain, permanent injury, and preventable sickness and death as a result of prison officials’ failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care and accommodate disabilities, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Promise of Justice Initiative, the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the Advocacy Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Louisiana succeeded when Judge Shelly Dick of the Middle District if Louisiana found that “[t]he evidence presented by Plaintiffs calls into serious question the adequacy of [Angola’s] healthcare and medical policies, as applied in practice, in reducing the health risk of inmates, and particularly for those inmates that are disabled.” The Judge credited the testimony of Plaintiffs expert Dr. Michael Puisis, who testified that many inmates “for months or years had a complaint that required an evaluation which did not occur timely, and result[ed] in either morbidity or mortality.”
In challenging the inadequate medical care, the Plaintiffs assert that the prison’s roughly 6,000 prisoners are all at risk of serious harm, while scores of men have already experienced unnecessary injury, suffering, and death. Plaintiffs’ experts discovered dozens of cases of preventable death in their review of Angola’s medical care, concluding that Angola’s “delivery of medical care is one of the worst [they] have ever reviewed” in their “collective experience of over 60 years in correctional medicine.”
“This is an important step in ensuring that our clients receive the care they are constitutionally entitled to,” said Jeffrey Dubner, co-lead counsel for the Plaintiffs. “We are gratified that Judge Dick saw the merit in our arguments, and we look forward to vindicating our clients’ rights at trial.”
Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, agreed. “Since the ACLU first investigated this case in 2013, we have been working to see that Angola’s prisoners get the medical care and disability accommodations so long deprived them. We are excited to that this case is moving forward.”
The complaint also alleges that prisoners with disabilities are especially hard-hit by the inadequate delivery of care. Miranda Tait, Managing Attorney for the Advocacy Center, said, “The vulnerable men who we represent continue to experience conditions that are unacceptable but we are glad this important step has brought them closer to getting the relief they need.”
In the wake of this victory, Plaintiffs’ counsel announced that the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) will be joining the suit as co-counsel. The SPLC brings decades of experience, having litigated prison cases across the South. Its ongoing litigation includes Braggs v. Dunn, a statewide challenge to the Alabama Department of Corrections in which a judge ruled the mental health care was “horribly inadequate,” and Dockery v. Epps, a challenge to the brutal conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility with trial starting next week in Jackson, Mississippi.
“Angola is notorious both for the brutality of its past and the cruel indifference of its present,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC. “The SPLC is excited to join this litigation and eager to help move the case forward towards a safe resolution.”
“We’re excited to be teaming up with the powerful advocates at SPLC to see this case to completion,” said co-lead counsel Mercedes Montagnes, Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “The men in Angola’s care have suffered from unconstitutional treatment for years, but there is hope on the horizon for humane conditions.”
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The Promise of Justice Initiative is a private, non-profit organization that advocates for criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty on behalf of indigent defendants and prisoners who seek fair and equal treatment under the law.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC has been a pioneer in class action lawsuits on behalf of individuals and small businesses for over 40 years. It has over 90 attorneys with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Raleigh, and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
The Advocacy Center of Louisiana is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to assisting people with disabilities and seniors in Louisiana to achieve maximum potential and independence. The Advocacy Center of Louisiana employs 50 people statewide who assist people to achieve employment, education, housing, and health care goals.
The American Civil Liberties Foundation of Louisiana has been Louisiana’s guardian of liberty since 1956, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.