UPDATE: On April 1, the ACLU of Louisiana and The Promise of Justice Initiative filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent the statewide transfer of COVID-19 patients to Angola prison.
Prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola (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.
In May 2015, the ACLU of Louisiana, along with The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC (Cohen Milstein), and the Advocacy Center (AC), filed a complaint against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) and Angola’s wardens alleging violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment and federal disability statutes.
In February 2018, a federal judge certified the class action on behalf of all the men incarcerated at Angola. The outcome of the case will affect the lives of at least 6,000 people the prison. The plaintiffs are represented by The Promise of Justice Initiative, the ACLU of Louisiana, Advocacy Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and attorney Jeffrey Dubner.
In challenging the inadequate medical care, the lawsuit asserts that the prison’s more than 6,000 prisoners are all at risk of serious harm, while scores of men have already experienced unnecessary injury, suffering and death.
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, the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also claims that Angola is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, on behalf of incarcerated people with mobility issues who are physically unable to access parts of the prison.
People incarcerated at Angola have reported horror story after horror story, according to the lawsuit. They include a man who was denied medical attention four times during a stroke, leaving him blind and paralyzed; a man who was denied access to a specialist for four years while his throat cancer advanced; and a blind man who was denied a cane for 16 years.
The complaint contends that Angola’s medical care worsened when Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge, which used to serve prisoners with medical emergencies, was closed during the reorganization of the state’s Charity Hospital System. Even basic screenings and treatments are now being broadly denied.
The complaint also alleges that disabled prisoners are especially hard-hit by the inadequate delivery of care.
The investigation into the delivery of medical care at Angola began as a result 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.