FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 14, 2020
Executive Director, The Promise of Justice Initiative
BATON ROUGE– Incarcerated people who test positive for COVID-19 in prisons and jails in around the state of Louisiana are being transferred to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (commonly called Angola) to be housed in Camp J. Today, the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed suit in federal court in Baton Rouge challenging the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ treatment of these incarcerated patients.
The DOC’s entire plan has been widely criticized by public health experts and civil rights advocates. Camp J was designed as a punishment camp for prisoners serving sentences of life without parole. It is a notoriously inhumane facility that was closed in 2018 due to its poor conditions. Incarcerated individuals, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime, are being moved to this remote non-medical facility despite the availability of hundreds of beds within the State’s Medical Monitoring Station in New Orleans.
Lawyers representing the patients subject to this plan filed suit against the State on Tuesday, seeking to halt the plan and ensure people with COVID 19 receive adequate care.
“Moving sick people from around the state to a facility with no ventilators, no doctors, and a long way from adequate hospitals is wrong and will result in a public health disaster,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of The Promise of Justice Initiative, the organization representing those facing transfer.; “This pandemic has taught us that everyone’s health depends on slowing the spread of this virus and responsibly treating those who test positive. Taken together, Louisiana’s incarcerated population would be our ninth-largest city; their treatment must adhere to the same public health principles as anyone else’s or outcomes will be worse for all of us.”
Louisiana, which incarcerates more of its people than any other place in the world, also has the highest death rate in the country in its prisons and spends the least per capita on prison healthcare. Earlier this year, the healthcare provided at Angola was found to be unconstitutional in at least some respects in federal court. People incarcerated in Louisiana are disproportionately Black, as are people in Louisiana who die of COVID-19.
For the families of people incarcerated in Louisiana, the lawsuit represents a chance to save the lives of their loved ones. “Right now, my concerns for my husband and his health are not being addressed. We’ve tried everything and now we’re turning to the courts for help. It’s scary because we know the administration is not making these decisions with my husband’s health or well-being in mind. I’m trying to get him home so he doesn’t have to go through this in prison.” Said Mary Major, whose husband has tested and presumed to be positive and is at risk of moving to Angola while he was still awaiting trial.
“People all around Louisiana are practicing social distancing and doing everything else they can to limit the spread of COVID-19, but social distancing is not an option for incarcerated individuals, who are truly at the mercy of the state” said Lisa Graybill, Deputy Legal Director for SPLC. “The LDOC has a legal obligation to the people it incarcerates which it seems far too willing to ignore, in this moment of greatest need. For the sake of these individuals, their families, and Louisiana itself, we cannot allow anyone to be prevented from accessing adequate health care.”
The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) is a New Orleans based nonprofit that works to create positive change for people in the criminal justice at the intersection of direct services, impact litigation, and community engagement. We believe in a world where our justice system values each person; a world where the system supports rehabilitation, and a world where we approach justice with a lens of healing and restoration for those who are harmed. This world will be safer and more secure for all people.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, SPLC provides direct representation to immigrants in remote, rural detention centers in two of the states with the highest numbers of detained individuals, Louisiana and Georgia.