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MacArthur Justice Center settles public records lawsuit with private prison

28th August 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

On August 21, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans reached a settlement in its lawsuit against Allen Correctional Center for failing to respond to a request for public documents regarding inmates held in segregation.

The first request for inmates held in segregation was made on June 19 by the MacArthur Justice Center, a civil rights law firm with a branch in New Orleans. On June 22, the center received verification that their request was received. However, they did not get the records.

On July 12, the MacArthur Justice Center sent a follow-up request via fax and mail for the records. When they still had not received them by August 10, the center filed suit. Louisiana law – La R.S. 44:35(A) – states that if such a request has not been met within five business days, the denied party can seek judicial action. Less than two weeks after taking this action, Allen Correctional Center settled with the MacArthur Justice Center and turned over the records.

“The whole process was unnecessary and it’s unfortunate they (Allen) didn’t just comply on the front end,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office.

The request was made as part of the MacArthur Justice Center’s efforts to learn more about inmates placed in segregated housing in Louisiana prisons. Segregated housing can refer to prisoners placed in solitary or prisoners who are not allowed to leave their cells at all during the day.

Schwartzmann said that the prisons run by the Louisiana Department of Corrections complied with the requests swiftly. There was only the delay with the Allen Correctional Center, located in Kinder, Louisiana.

“We are concerned about the use of solitary confinement throughout the state because it has significant collateral consequences,” said Schwartzmann. “It’s very bad for people’s mental health and it’s also extremely expensive for the taxpayers of the state.”

Schwartzmann said that the MacArthur Justice Center is still poring through the documents received from Allen Correctional Center and other Louisiana prisons to determine how and if segregated housing is being misused.

“It’s a big issue to try to wrap one’s arms around,” said Schwartzmann.

Allen Correctional Center has been privately operated since it opened in 1990. It is run by the Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO Group, a company that manages privatized corrections, detention and mental health treatment centers on four continents.

An August 16 article in The Advocate announced that the GEO Group would be terminating its contract with the state at the end of the month. On September 1, the state corrections department will take over the facility. The decision was attributed to “state budget constraints,” specifically a 2016 decision that lowered the daily payments GEO received for housing inmates from $31.52 to $24.49 per inmate.

After this change takes place, the only remaining privately run state prison will be Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, which is run by the Ruston, Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections.

A call to Allen Correctional Center asking them to comment on the lawsuit was not returned as of press time.

This article originally published in the August 28, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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