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Main entrance gate near administration Building at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING

A new coalition was formed Thursday night to push for improving what members of the group describe as deplorable and inhumane conditions at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

The coalition is led by the families of relatives who have died while in custody of the Parish Prison and includes community leaders, advocates and others. They say they hope to expose current conditions in the jail as they push for reforms of the policies and practices at the facility.

Linda Franks, the mother of 27-year-old Lamar Johnson who hanged himself in an isolated cell after four days in the jail in 2015, began the Thursday night meeting at Delmont Gardens branch library telling her family's story to the about 50 concerned attendees.

"We thought he was in a place that was secure," Franks said. "We never knew he was going to be tortured and killed... in a place I pay for with my taxes."

Also at the meeting, was the mother of 28-year-old Antwoin Harden who died in the jail in 2014 of a blood clot, and the family of 72-year-old Paul Cleveland who died of severe heart problems in the jail in 2014. The families of Harden and Cleveland say both men had known health issues that were not properly addressed by prison staff.

The city-parish government privatized the jail's medical unit in 2017, a move that officials say has improved care. However, the parish Sheriff, who oversees the prison, and its warden both admit the prison is outdated and too small.

Baton Rouge Community College student Tennell Bell said she recently spent several days in the local jail and was horrified by how she and the other women were treated. She described a lack of feminine hygiene products and a disregard for gaping wounds and illness.

"I got to see what's really going on," Bell, 35, said. "I don't understand how these things are still happening."

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.