Judge: Louisiana penitentiary medical care unconstitutional

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths of inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary are the result of “overwhelming deficiencies” in the administration of health care that violate federal law and the U.S. Constitution, a judge has ruled in a long-running lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s ruling, dated Wednesday, cites inadequate equipment and staffing and a lack of hygiene in some clinical areas that put the prison at Angola in southeast Louisiana in violation of the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ruling in Baton Rouge, Dick said she would set a status conference for discussion to begin on court-ordered remedies to the myriad problems.

The ruling lists multiple examples of inmates suffering or dying due to failure to address symptoms and provide proper diagnoses and treatment. For example, it said one inmate complained of weight loss and abdominal pain for two years before he was diagnosed with colon cancer. “Surgery was performed, after which the patient developed complications and died,” Dick wrote.

Her ruling says emergency medical technicians are often the “front line” of medical care at the prison. It says they often work without access to medical records and without meaningful supervision from physicians.

“Generally, the Court concludes that LSP lacks the infrastructure necessary to provide a constitutionally adequate health care system for patients with serious medical needs,” Dick wrote, adding that “overwhelming deficiencies in the medical leadership and administration of health care at LSP contributes to these constitutional violations.”

The opinion also outlines numerous problems at a medical dormitory for prisoners with disabilities, such as showers that are inaccessible and walkways that were difficult to traverse for prisoners in wheelchairs.

The state Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday morning.

Mercedes Montagnes, an attorney and executive director of the Promise of Justice Initiative, one of the advocacy groups behind the lawsuit, hailed the ruling in a news release.

“Going forward, prison officials will have to start fulfilling their constitutional obligation to provide adequate medical care and disability accommodations to everyone incarcerated there, no matter how young or old, healthy or sick,” she said.