Federal Court Rules that Medical Care at Angola Violates Eighth Amendment Prohibition on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
April 1, 2021 1:00 pm

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NEW ORLEANS – In response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Louisiana, along with The Promise of Justice Initiative, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Disability Rights Louisiana, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a federal judge has ruled that medical care at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (Angola) is constitutionally inadequate, causing a substantial risk of serious medical harm for the prison’s population. The lawsuit asserts that the more than 6,000 people living at Angola are all at risk of receiving dangerous health care, while scores of men have already experienced unnecessary injury, suffering, and death.

“The level of medical care provided at Angola is horrific—we have been stunned at the amount of human suffering that’s allowed to go on there,” said Bruce Hamilton, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. “While we’re pleased with the Court’s decision to strike down these cruel and degrading conditions as unconstitutional, we know there is still more work to do in order to guarantee quality care to all of Angola’s population, which cannot be delayed any longer. We’re grateful for the work of our partners, who fought hard for so many years to achieve this victory. Gaining openness and transparency about the conditions at Angola is the first step toward achieving adequate medical care.”

“The Department of Corrections’ continuing failure to care for an aging and vulnerable population is also a reminder of the need to reform Louisiana’s extreme sentencing laws, and give elderly people who have served unjustly long sentences an opportunity for parole.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, states that Angola—the nation’s largest maximum-security prison—is violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by neglecting the serious medical needs of people incarcerated there. People living at Angola 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. The complaint also alleges that security personnel—not medical personnel—are often tasked with the initial assessment of whether someone is “really sick” when they purport to have a medical emergency. Even basic screenings and treatments are broadly denied, and the disabled population are especially hard-hit by the inadequate delivery of care.

“What we have seen firsthand is that the abysmal conditions at Angola are especially harmful to our clients who have disabilities or mobility issues,” said Hamilton. “They are systematically denied access to even the most basic accommodations and are prevented from accessing prison services and programming as a result of their disabilities. People incarcerated at Angola have reported horror story after horror story, but now, finally, the Department of Corrections will have to make the necessary changes to bring the prison into compliance with federal law.”

The court concluded that the Department of Corrections lacks the infrastructure necessary to provide a constitutionally adequate health care system for patients with serious medical needs. This includes a lack of adequate organizational structure, credentialing and peer review processes, health care policies and procedures, clinic space, and a quality control program. The Court also found that overwhelming deficiencies in the medical leadership and administration of health care at LSP contributes to these constitutional violations.

The investigation into the delivery of medical care at Angola began because of multiple prisoners’ reports of grossly inadequate medical care. Attorneys interviewed more than 200 men in connection with this investigation and found scores whose problems echo those of the plaintiffs named in the complaint. The class action seeks an injunction that will bring the prison in line with constitutional standards in the delivery of medical care.

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