State employees at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as “Angola,” routinely and systemically failed to properly assess, diagnose and treat the medical problems of people who are incarcerated at the largest prison in the state, which for years has had the world’s highest rate of incarceration. Unacceptable delays in treatment, deficient staffing – both in number and in training – and failure to follow up or properly refer patients for the treatment they need all contribute to a level of care that is constitutionally inadequate. This lack of care creates inhumane conditions that jeopardize the lives of the people incarcerated at Angola, the nation’s largest maximum-security prison.
In May 2018, a federal judge added the SPLC as counsel in Lewis v. Cain, a class action lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The outcome of this high-stakes case will affect the lives of at least 6,300 incarcerated people.
Originally filed in May 2015 by the SPLC’s partners – Promise of Justice Initiative, ACLU of Louisiana, Advocacy Center and Cohen Milstein – the lawsuit describes the medical care provided at Angola as fundamentally and grossly deficient, far below constitutional and statutory requirements. The lawsuit claims that Angola is violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” by neglecting the serious medical needs of prisoners. It also claims that Angola is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, on behalf of incarcerated people with mobility issues who are physically unable to access parts of the prison.
Plaintiff Ian Cazenave has sickle cell anemia and requires regular blood tests to monitor his hemoglobin levels. He needs blood transfusions if his hemoglobin levels fall too low. Angola doctors were not monitoring Cazenave’s hemoglobin levels and in February 2016, he developed a fever and an infected wound. A blood sample was taken, and it was determined that his levels were dangerously low. When he was finally taken to the hospital, doctors there told him he had made it just in time. They gave him a transfusion and antibiotics to treat the infection. However, Cazenave, like each person imprisoned at Angola, is at continued risk from the constitutionally deficient health care provided.
In February 2018, a federal judge certified this class action on behalf of all the men incarcerated at Angola. Trial is set for October 2018.