Angola Prisoners Sue for Medical Neglect

     (CN) – The Angola, Louisiana state prison does not provide ample and timely medical treatment to its inmates, a class action filed on Wednesday claims.
     A group of Angola prisoners sued the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, department secretary James LeBlanc, Angola Warden Burl Cain and Assistant Warden for Health Services Stephanie Lamartiniere in Federal Court. They claim their serious medical needs have gone untreated or mistreated.
     “The medical care provided at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola falls far beneath constitutional and statutory standards. Countless prisoners have already suffered serious harm due to defendants’ grossly deficient policies and practices, including unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement, and even death,” the complaint states. “Thousands more are placed at daily risk of suffering the same fate should they need medical care.”
     The lawsuit claims that Angola officials routinely delay medical access and treatment, fail to provide medication and follow-up care, and do not have enough qualified medical personnel, resulting in some medical tasks being performed by unqualified people like other prisoners.
     One plaintiff, quadriplegic Kentrell Parker, developed a blood infection from regularly having to sit in his own feces for hours while waiting for an orderly to change his bedding, according to the lawsuit. Another, 62-year-old Edward Giovanni, claims he has been denied needed hernia surgeries for years due to a hospital shutdown and long waiting list.
     “Defendants’ practices have had devastating consequences for countless prisoners,” the complaint states. “Prisoners report horror story after horror story: a man denied medical attention four times during a stroke, leaving him blind and paralyzed; a man denied access to a specialist for four years while his throat cancer advanced; a blind man denied even a cane for 16 years.”
     In 1989, the U.S. Justice Department sued Angola after an investigation into prison conditions, which resulted in a consent decree regulating medical care at Angola, according to the complaint. The prisoners say many of the same problems noted in the investigation still exist.
     “Defendant Cain was warden of Angola during the latter period that the consent decree was in effect,” the complaint states. “Given defendants’ longstanding knowledge that its practices are constitutionally deficient, together with the litany of complaints and the devastating, often tragic consequences of their medical neglect, there can be no question that defendants have been deliberately indifferent to the shortcomings of their system of treatment.”
     In a statement provided to Courthouse News Thursday afternoon, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections denied the allegations in the prisoner lawsuit.
     “Appropriate health care delivery is a critical component for a successful prison operation. The 6,244 offenders assigned to LSP have 24/7 access to emergency healthcare, with a physician on duty who also lives on site and is available around the clock,” the department’s statement reads. “It should be noted that the groups that have filed the suit have only met with a small fraction of the offender population, yet very broadly claim that all offenders lack appropriate care. That assertion could not be more incorrect.”Angola has six full time physicians, a nurse practitioner, 20 registered nurses, 31 licensed practical nurses, 32 EMTs, four pharmacists, and a number of other specialists and technicians, according to the press release. The corrections department also says it has added clinical services to the prison in recent years. The press release states that the department usually does not comment on pending litigation but made an exception because the allegations warrant a response.
     “The offender population at Angola does present its challenges because of the number of elderly offenders as well as those with chronic diseases, but LSP staff in collaboration with LSU and other private healthcare providers has provided appropriate, quality care despite the challenges and will continue to do so,” the corrections department statement reads.
     Angola is a maximum security prison with over 6,000 prisoners including death row inmates, according to the complaint. The prisoners claim most men housed there serve hard labor sentences, usually tending to crops in agricultural fields.
     The lawsuit alleges violations of the Eighth Amendment, which pertains to cruel and unusual punishment, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposed class consists of current Angola prisoners.
     The prisoners seek class certification and the development of a plan to address inadequate medical care. They are represented by Mercedes Montagnes of the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans.

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