Prisons Need to Act Now to Protect Inmates From Corvid-19

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Corvid-19 or the Corona virus is spreading rapidly throughout the United States. Schools are being closed. Public officials are encouraging individuals to engage in “social distancing,” to work from home, and to limit non-essential travel. These efforts will hopefully slow the spread of Corvid-19 and ease the burden on the U.S. healthcare system.

Unfortunately, the US jail and prison population is at high risk. This risk is even higher for the many of people with disabilities in US jails and prisons.

Jails force inmates to live in close quarters,
increasing the risk of infection. 

Louisiana prisons often operate understaffed and under-supplied. Prison and jails have populations that are housed in close proximity with limited-or-no ability to engage in “social distancing.” The staff employed by prison officials in Louisiana generally have limited healthcare knowledge. The medical units at most Louisiana prisons are typically understaffed. Further, many of the staff at Louisiana prisons have themselves faced discipline and not permitted to work anywhere but at prisons. It is little surprise that medical care at Louisiana prisons can be shockingly inadequate. In February of 2020, a federal judge ruled that parts of the prison care at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana are inadequate and unconstitutional.

Here at Bizer & DeReus, we successfully litigated against the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison for failure to provide adequate medical care and disability-related accommodations. In a recent ruling, the Court found that our client:

produced evidence sufficient to show that a reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Mealey suffered cruel and unusual punishment due to inhumane conditions of confinement because of the lack of access to medical care at the Prison.

Mealey v. Gautreaux, No. CV 16-716-JWD-RLB, 2020 WL 515853, at *15 (M.D. La. Jan. 31, 2020)

Let that sink in: Before the Corvid-19 pandemic, a federal court found sufficient evidence for a Jury to conclude that an inmate at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison suffered “inhumane conditions of confinement because of the lack of access to medical care at the Prison.” And that ruling was just one of many cases that have been filed against the owners and operators of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison due because of the inadequate medical care and insufficient conditions of confinement.

From our research, it appears that there are numerous steps that prisons and jails should be taking, including but not limited to:

  • Releasing high risk inmates (the elderly, immunocompromised, etc.).
  • Screening all staff members for symptoms of Corvid-19 and not permitting staff members with symptoms inside the facility.
  • Referring all Corvid-19 patients to outside hospitals.
  • Updating policies and procedures to align with the CDC and WHO standards and immediately training all staff on those new policies and procedures.
  • Easing prohibitions against alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Distribution of hand sanitizers, soap, and tissues.
  • Increasing access to hand washing stations and showers.

Jailers have a legal obligation to control the spread of infectious diseases within their facility. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has made it clear that “prison officials face potential liability for failure to take adequate steps to control the spread of tuberculosis.” McCormick v. Stalder, 105 F.3d 1059, 1062 (5th Cir. 1997). Just as a prison official can face liability for failure to control the spread of tuberculosis, a widespread failure by prison officials to control the spread of Corvid-19 can result in liability.

Over the next few weeks, Bizer & DeReus will be closely monitoring the situation inside Louisiana prisons and jails. Bizer & DeReus will be making public records requests to the Louisiana Department of Corrections seeking copies of any plans/policies/protocols as to Corvid-19.

If you want information on the status of our investigation, please give us a call at 504-619-9999.

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