A Louisiana prison is being hit with a federal lawsuit. Inmates at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer claim they’re routinely subjected to ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments, ranging from immobilization to cold-weather exposure.
The class action, filed on Tuesday, is demanding damages as well as a court-ordered end to the “extreme, abusive conditions” at the Claiborne Parish facility.
The Minden Press-Herald provides excerpts of the 53-page filing. Among the abuses outlined by inmates is a routine denial of mental health care. Instead of being provided therapy or psychological services, convicts would be immediately placed on suicide watch, stripped of their clothing, and held in isolation for weeks at a time. Conditions were allegedly so appalling that several detainees cut themselves or attempted suicide.
“Virtually no mental health care is provided to prisoners on extended lockdown, aside from scattershot, poorly administered and inconsistent medication,” says the suit.
Louisiana corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick broke standard agency policy in defending Wade, said officials looked forward to challenging the suit in court.
“The department doesn’t typically comment on pending lawsuits,” said Pastorick. “However, due to the outlandish nature of these claims, we’re inclined to refute the allegations as baseless claims with no merit.”
Attorneys from the Advocacy Center and MacArthur Justice Center originally filed the suit, suing in July to interview inmates and corrections staff at Wade.
The lawsuit, recounts the Press-Herald, claims there’s a “culture of cover-up and excessive force” at the prison. Mental health complaints are routinely dealt with by spraying chemical agents and confiscating convicts’ bedding and clothes. Windows are opened in suicide watch cells to expose inmates to low nighttime temperature, says the suit.
“The use of extreme cold to punish behavior on the tier is not a single isolated incident and occurs so frequently that prisoners have a word for it, ‘bluesing’ or ‘getting bluesed,’” claims the plaintiffs’ filing.
Despite Pastorick’s argument to the contrary, attorneys for the inmates say their clients are being threatened with retaliation for cooperating with lawyers on-site.
“Defendants have offered promises of putting in a ‘good word’ toward a transfer to another facility in exchange for individual cooperation to cease participating in the investigation,” they say.
A suit filed last summer made similar references to the ill treatment of mentally handicapped or fatigued prisoners, claiming they were made to kneel down and bark like dogs to receive food.
Moreover, writes The Advocate, a plurality of prisoners serving disciplinary time in isolation are the same ones routinely denied mental health care. Rather than being offered treatment, they’re confined to cells for 23 hours per day and permitted a single, 10-minute phone call to friends and relatives each month.
“Due to the lack of human contact and uncontrolled mental illness, many will scream, laugh and talk to themselves. Others rock in place or deteriorate to more severe manifestations of their conditions, such as smearing blood or feces,” claims the suit.