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Loyola Law Students Document Lives Lost and 150 Years of Deaths in the Orleans Jail 

By Loyola University on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 10:59

“In Memoriam” series puts a human face on jail deaths

(New Orleans, November 1, 2021) On All Saints Day, a worldwide day of remembrance, Loyola Law students have released their first installment of memorials of people who died in the New Orleans jail, as well as new data documenting deaths in the jail beginning in 1877. The database and memorials – which are part of a larger, first-of-its-kind website and database of deaths in Louisiana prisons, jails, and detention centers – are a pivotal step toward incarceration transparency in Louisiana and force a moment of truth for area residents on the role of the jail in public safety. 

Over the last two years, Loyola Law students working with Loyola University New Orleans Distinguished Law Professor Andrea Armstrong, a nationally recognized expert on incarceration law and policy, researched the deaths through public records, news articles and other available data and tracked the information for publication on their website titled IncarcerationTransparency.org. To humanize those who lost their lives in jail, students interviewed families and friends and conducted extensive research to tell these stories in a unique and personal “In Memoriam” series that documents the many lives lost in incarceration. 

“When a person dies behind bars, the public often only knows about a person’s criminal charges and in some cases, the cause of death,” Armstrong said. “This project forces a closer look at how many people – and which people – have died behind bars in New Orleans. Our students have worked hard to make sure these deaths are not simply statistics. They gathered personal stories and critical factual details to provide a fuller picture of what families, friends, and communities lose when a person dies behind bars.”

The information was collected by Loyola Law students as part of a broader project examining the 300-year history of the New Orleans jail -- and deaths in Louisiana prisons, jails and youth detention centers as a whole.  In 2019, Professor Armstrong launched the Incarceration Transparency project, recently profiled in the New Yorker. The project uncovers and analyzes deaths in custody in prisons, jails, and youth detention centers in Louisiana. Law students in Loyola’s Technology and Legal Innovation clinic, led by Loyola Law Professor Judson Mitchell, created the database and website, launched in June 2021.  The website is a first-of-its-kind data collection and database project exploring deaths in Louisiana prisons, jails and detention centers that can be replicated nationwide to enhance transparency of federal, state, and local detention practices in other states.
The Incarceration Transparency 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. Professor Armstrong released their first report, Louisiana Deaths Behind Bars 2015-2019 in June 2021. 
The memorials and data on deaths behind bars in New Orleans deaths is the students’ latest effort and is designed to train students in critical thinking, case investigation, and research advocacy skills.

“It was a privilege to be able to shine a light on the life of a community member we have lost,” said Meredith Booker, a third-year Loyola Law student who has worked with Armstrong on the project since 2020. “This project not only taught me how to be creative in researching and investigating, but also about how to communicate and interact with people using a trauma-informed lens and how important it is to center and humanize the voices of people that broader society often overlooks or easily forgets.”