Advocacy groups file federal lawsuit against DOC, north Louisiana jail

David Wade Correctional Center. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

NEW ORLEANS – A federal lawsuit alleges serious neglect of prisoners with disabilities at a prison in north Louisiana.

The MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana have filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections and the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana.

The suit alleges that the correctional center fails to provide meaningful mental health care services, does not identify individuals with significant mental illnesses, and uses solitary confinement as an alternative to mental health treatment.

“Congress created federal statutes providing oversight of institutions that house people with mental illness and other disabilities to ensure that people are not subject to abuse,” Advocacy Center attorney Ron Lospennato said. “This case raises exactly the sort of concerns those statutes were created to address.”

According to Katie Schwartzman, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center and authorized investigator with the Advocacy Center, corrections officials stifled a scheduled site visit, reducing the tour from one day to one hour.

Additionally, prisoners with obvious disabilities were kept away from the investigators. Schwartzman said, while others, many wearing paper gowns, called out repeatedly for help.

“Many of the men literally cried out to us for help. Others were in a seemingly-catatonic state. The staff moved several prisoners to another area to prevent our speaking with them,” she said. “The staff engaged in deliberate obstruction of our investigation. They clearly are trying to prevent outside scrutiny, also denying us access to talk to a man on suicide watch. We are very concerned for people’s safety, and about what they are trying to hide.”

The lawsuit was filed on July 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Division.

Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc, David Wade Correctional Center Warden Jerry Goodwin, and DWCC Colonel Lonnie Nail have been named as defendants in the case.