NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal lawsuit in which several inmates at a north Louisiana state prison allege harsh treatment of the mentally ill was granted class action status on Monday by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote's decision means the criminal justice advocates who filed the lawsuit in 2018 can potentially seek relief for hundreds of prisoners over alleged inhumane treatment at the Wade Correctional Center in Claiborne Parish. Exactly how many is unclear but the ruling by Foote, of Shreveport, says there were 366 people being held at the buildings in question in March 2020.
The lawsuit says some inmates at the Wade center have been held in isolation, confined in cells for 23 to 24 hours per day, for months and sometimes years, causing or exacerbating mental health problems. It alleges that some seeking mental health treatment have been placed in isolation in a disciplinary area, and that inmates have resorted to self mutilation and attempts at suicide to escape brutal conditions.
Prisoners allege the conditions at the prison violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and also Eighth Amendment protections against cruel punishment. The suit was filed in the federal court system for the Western District of Louisiana.
State officials denied the lawsuit’s allegations when it was filed. They fought efforts to have the court grant class action status to the lawsuit and didn’t immediately respond to a query on whether they would appeal Foote's ruling.