Angola Death Row (copy)

Louisiana State Penitentiary

Medical care at the Louisiana State Penitentiary is unconstitutional "in some respects," says a federal judge who is poised to rule in a 5-year-old lawsuit filed by Angola inmates.

Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, said in an order signed Friday that she is prepared to order injunctive relief to address conditions that she finds unconstitutional. The judge did not specify the conditions.

The class-action suit alleges inmates at the maximum-security prison have suffered unnecessary pain and suffering, exacerbation of existing conditions, permanent disability, disfigurement and even death as a result of "grossly deficient" medical care.

The state contends that the inmates receive quality medical care.

Dick wrote Friday that she “considers it to be in the best interests of the litigants to attempt to reach an amicable resolution” on some or all of the claims dealing with Angola medical care. Neither side had any comment Wednesday on the judge’s order.

Both sides met with a federal magistrate last summer in an effort to resolve the case, but no settlement was reached.

Dick presided over a judge trial of the lawsuit in 2018. Court records indicate she visited Angola earlier this month. The judge went to the R.E. Barrow Treatment Center, the Acute Treatment Center, Nursing Unit 1 and 2, and Ash 2 Medical Dormitory.

The suit claims Angola’s medical care grew worse after the closure of Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which used to serve prisoners with medical emergencies. The facility was closed in 2013 during the reorganization of the state’s charity hospital system.

The day after the suit was filed in May 2015, Dr. Raman Singh, the state corrections department's now-former medical director, acknowledged that Angola's 6,000-plus inmate population is a challenge due to the number of elderly prisoners and those with chronic diseases.

Farrell Sampier, a paraplegic Angola inmate and one of the suit’s dozen named plaintiffs, testified at the fall 2018 trial that conditions were so bad in one of the prison's infirmaries that he couldn't wait to get back to the prison's general population. The Ward 2 infirmary for prisoners with serious chronic care needs reeked of human waste and was filled with the moans of prisoners "crying out to the Lord," he said.

"I didn't want to die in that situation," Sampier testified.

Dr. Michael Puisis, an expert in medical care provided in correctional facilities, testified for the plaintiffs that he spent four days at Angola and found the medical care there to be inadequate. Medical personnel fail to diagnose or properly treat illnesses, he said, and failed to provide follow-up care ordered by outside medical providers.

Dick, however, is ordering Louisiana Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc to meet with an attorney for the inmates and a lawyer for the state "for the purposes of reaching resolution on some or all claims."

This isn’t the first time a federal judge has decided to exercise oversight over conditions at Angola.

The late U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola, after he became a federal district court judge in 1980, continued to enforce the federal oversight of the prison that started in the mid-1970s and supervised a consent decree at Angola tied to lawsuits about prison conditions from 1983 until 1998.

The long-running legal battle began in 1971 when inmates at Angola sued over conditions there. The suit eventually led to the 1983 federal consent decree, in which Polozola ordered limits on prison populations.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.