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Mentally ill inmates forced to bark like dogs for food, lawsuit alleges

31st July 2017   ·   0 Comments

Louisiana prison officials blocked attorneys from investigating “alarming” allegations of inmate abuse, including claims that mentally ill prisoners were forced to kneel or bend down and bark like dogs to get food, a lawsuit filed by a New Orleans-based nonprofit group called The Advocacy Center alleges.

In a federal lawsuit filed July 20. The Advocacy Center also said it has received reports that disabled prisons at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, La. have been subjected to physical abuse that included being kicked, slapped, punched, sprayed with mace and bleach and stripped of their clothing during the winter.

The Advocate reported that attorneys from the Advocacy Center and the MacArthur Justice Center visited the north Louisiana prison in June to investigate those abuse and neglect claims. But the suit says prison officials prevented them from interviewing inmates and staff members.

The federal lawsuit, which was filed in the midst of an effort by state officials to do away with Louisiana’s long-held title as the nation and the world’s “prison capital” and home of one of the harshest prison systems, seeks court-ordered access to the prison so attorneys can fully investigate conditions at the facility.

“We’re very alarmed about how people are being treated,” Katie Schwartzmann, a New Orleans-based attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center, told The Advocate. “There are some serious allegations that we’re trying to get in there to investigate.”

Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc told The Advocate that he hadn’t read the suit yet and couldn’t immediately comment on it. Corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The prison’s warden, Jerry Goodwin, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

LeBlanc, Goodwin and a colonel at the prison are named as defendants in the suit.

The suit contends that federal laws give the Advocacy Center “broad access rights” to prisoners and prison records so it can investigate allegations of neglect and abuse involving inmates with disabilities.

The plaintiffs said in the federal lawsuit that they have been receiving complaints of “serious abuse” of disabled inmates at the northwest La. prison which opened in 1980 and can accommodate up to 1,244 inmates.

During a June 21 visit to the prison, attorneys from The Advocacy Center and the MacArthur Justice Center said “Some inmates pleaded for help, others asked questions, some shouted,” according to the suit. “At no time during any of these exchanges did any inmate express any threatening or disruptive intent; they simply wanted to speak with the Investigators.”

Attorneys returned to the prison on July 17 to see a prisoner who was believed to be “extremely suicidal” but were barred from any contact with the inmate, according to the lawsuit.

This article originally published in the July 31, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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