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Punished Protesters: New Report Cites Human Rights Violations in La. Prison

Loyola press release - July 12, 2017

New report on treatment of protestors punished in the wake of Alton Sterling’s death points to ongoing inhumane conditions in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

A newly released report detailing prison conditions faced by police protestors in the wake of Alton Sterling’s death points to ongoing human rights violations in an East Baton Rouge prison. Written by leading prison expert Loyola University New Orleans Associate Professor of Law Andrea Armstrong and Erica Navalance, a New Orleans attorney working for the Promise of Justice Initiative, the report provides a scathing look at the East Baton Rouge Parish prison and conditions faced by detainees. The report, titled “Punished Protestors in Baton Rouge: Conditions in East Baton Rouge Prison,” and funded by the Promise of Justice Initiative, cites unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the prison, as well as excessive force, unlawful punishment, unconstitutional hardship, and humiliation.

“The arrest and detention of approximately 180 individuals protesting the police killing of Alton Sterling provided a distressing window into the actual conditions of East Baton Rouge Parish Prison,” begins the report, which details the conditions of the prison, the experiences of the arrested protestors, and the governing legal standards for dozens of arrestees.

Through the eyes of protestors, the report demonstrates inhumane and punitive conditions at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, including: excessive use of force, denial of medical care, inhumane conditions, overcrowding, and deliberate humiliation. Moreover, the collective experience of the protestors, the report says, “speaks to the unconstitutional conditions endured by tens of thousands of others who are arrested and detained in the parish prison.”

The report cites “substandard conditions” and alleges that that the prison “appears to encourage or at least tolerate abusive and humiliating conduct by guards” and compares the manner in which East Baton Rouge Parish Prison treated the mostly African-American protestors of police misconduct to the inhumane treatment of civil rights protestors in the 1960s.

“Unfortunately, this report reflects the treatment of detainees in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison when the whole world was watching,” Armstrong and Navalance write.

Published one year after the death of Alton Sterling and ensuing protests, the report is based on a series of interviews of protestors conducted July 11-12, 2016, and one year later in July 2017, as well as resources produced by the East Baton Rouge Sherriff’s Office, including: prison policy manuals, prison self-reporting statistics and a roster of detainees.

The report also draws on external objective sources, such as: a comprehensive report on clinical operations at the prison prepared by Health Management Associates (HMA) and a survey from the Association of State Correctional Administrators. In so doing, the report shows that conditions at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison fall short of nationwide best practices.

“Participating in a civil rights march – in 2016 – shouldn’t result in being jailed in inhumane conditions, denied medical care, and deliberately humiliated,” Armstrong wrote in a follow-up commentary. “But that is exactly what happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last July and it bears an uncanny resemblance to the treatment of those fighting for civil rights over half a century ago.”