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Leading Expert on Prison and Jail Conditions Launches Death-in-Custody Project

By Loyola University on Thu, 02/18/2021 - 14:24

Support from Arnold Ventures will fund the data collection effort

(New Orleans, February 18, 2021) To address a glaring lack of transparency on deaths in prisons, jails, and detention centers, Loyola University New Orleans Law Professor Andrea Armstrong has launched a new two-year project examining deaths in custody in Louisiana.  This project is an innovative new model that puts law students on the cutting edge of research, while also providing in-depth data and analysis for policy makers, advocates, and academics. After an initial pilot in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S. and the world, team members will work with law schools in the South to implement the project in their home states.
Arnold Ventures – a philanthropic organization focused on evidence-based giving in a wide range of categories, including criminal justice, education, health care, and public finance – has recently provided support totaling $411,010 to fund the two-year effort.

“It is critical to understand why people are dying behind bars and what we can do to prevent future unnecessary deaths,” said Armstrong, a leading national expert on prison and jail conditions. “Our law students will gain invaluable skills and experience, while also building a foundation for future reform and legislation.”
The two-year project will establish who is dying and how in Louisiana jails, prisons, and detention centers from 2015-2020 at facility and system levels; identify disparities and hot spots among local facilities, and make comparisons by race/gender across facilities. All data and analysis will be publicly available for use by policymakers and advocates, as well as future study by academics.

The project also will inform policy discussions of criminal justice by identifying and elevating systemic issues inside of prisons, jails, and detention centers through analysis of the causes, key demographics, and facility-level failures resulting in preventable carceral deaths. 

The project team includes two leading criminal justice reform organizations – the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) and Voice of The Experienced (VOTE).  Staff attorneys at PJI will co-teach the seminar by sharing their practical expertise in litigation and public records requests.  Members of VOTE will collaborate to share the project’s findings into the advocacy and policymaking communities.

Loyola Law Professor Judson Mitchell, director of the first-of-its-kind Technology and Legal Innovation clinic, will lead the database and website development aspect of this project. Operated by by students, the clinic, which is housed in the university’s Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, explores the use of technology in the practice of law.

Together, Professor Armstrong and her team will build a data-driven foundation for ensuring humane and constitutional conditions in Louisiana jails, prisons, and detention centers.  This work is slated for completion in December 2022.  In addition to the recent grant from Arnold Ventures, Armstrong and her partners at LSU and VOTE won a three-year $350,00 grant from the Robert J. Woods Foundation in 2019 to research the effects of incarceration on use of healthcare service in Louisiana.