BATON ROUGE—Some inmates in Louisiana might get some legal recourse for alleged harsh treatment in a class-action suit brought against the Louisiana Department of Corrections and the David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC) in Homer.
At issue are allegations of “extended lockdowns” where suicidal prisoners and others are sometimes kept in near-total isolation for days on end, as well as other treatments, including exposure to freezing temperatures, that human rights advocates characterize as “cruel and inhumane treatment.”
The current suit focuses on two inmates, one of whom claims the onset of mental problems after isolation, and another who claims to have been misdiagnosed by prison staff, to his detriment.
Attorneys from the Advocacy Center and MacArthur Justice Center filed the suit in the Middle District of Louisiana on behalf of the inmates.
“I think that making sure that people get adequate mental health care is absolutely key,” Jonathan Trunnell, staff attorney at the Advocacy Center, told the Louisiana Record in a recent interview.
In this particular case, Trunnell criticized the extent of prison policies aimed at controlling prisoners.
“I believe that it has been taken to the extreme in this case,” Trunnell said, speaking of the alleged policy for suicide watch, a major element of the case. “There does have to be a line somewhere.”
Trunnell said he had seen similar cases brought for these types of confinement scenarios.
“These are things that used to be like clockwork … we’re not alleging some radical new theory,” Trunnell said, citing other cases in states like Pennsylvania and Mississippi. "I think that solitary confinement is not an effective solution to the problems Louisiana is facing.”
Trunnell said the allegedly policies targeted in the suit are not cost-effective and, moreover, don’t produce prisoners with a good outlook for rehabilitation.
“I just don’t think it’s fundamentally good … policy,” Trunnell said.
As for the outlook for the case’s success, Trunnell said the legal team is ready to fully litigate the case.
“We hope that the state will not wait for judgment,” Trunnell said. “That it will start to make real changes right away, and that they’ll take this seriously and see what a problem it is.”