COMMENTARY: Death in a EBR parish prison–too common
Death in a local jail is pretty rare unless you are housed in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. The disturbing part of that sentence is the unfiltered sad, truth that 25 people died in this prison between 2012 and 2016. And these deaths were known and not investigated by any independent entity. What should be the safest, most secure place in the parish is instead by all involved, an unacceptable, destabilized, broken system that doesn’t offer either public safety for the general public or those employed in or those exposed to this system. More than 25 individuals whose lives had meaning to God, their families and their friends deserve this situation to be addressed. Many claim it is too hard but nothing could be further from the truth.
For those families able to muster the resources to get legal representation they can sue but what remains most frightening is the false narrative that continues to live that everyone housed in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is a hardened felon who has been convicted of a violent crime. The truth is that 89% of all individuals held in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison have not been adjudicated. That is a fancy way of saying they haven’t been convicted of anything. Many people are incarcerated because of minor non-violent offenses and a very large percentage of those who cannot afford to make bail will plea not because they are guilty but because that is the only way for them to be released. We do indeed have an active and thriving debtors prison system.
Some of the deaths were caused be purposeful cruelty such as inadequate basic protections such as socks and blankets. Some of the deaths were caused by policy and procedures that disrespected the most basic protocols for treating healthcare (including mental illness). Almost all the deaths to some degree were caused by the care and feeding of a mass incarceration industry that specifically requires bodies in the building to make payroll and profit. And none of these deaths should have occurred.
On Thursday, July 19th family and friends gathered at the levee in downtown Baton Rouge for a vigil to call for action and recognition. These individuals deserved each of their deaths to have an independent investigation as a standard practice of law and policy. Each person who loses their freedom under the authority of the state still retains their right to be treated with dignity. And none of the individuals who died had been sentenced to the death penalty EXCEPT they did receive the death penalty. To learn more about changing the narrative please check out the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition.
Rev. Alexis Anderson
Baton Rouge, Louisiana