Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/34
Title: PUTTING LOUISIANA PRISONS ON NOTICE: A CALL FOR DEATH NOTIFICATION TO NEXT-OF-KIN IN THE EVENT OF AN INMATE’S DEATH
Authors: Arnold, Ashley E.
Keywords: death notification
Louisiana prison reform
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
Citation: 62 Loy. L. Rev. 79
Abstract: “The way they said it happened, it didn’t make sense to us . . . [A]ll I want is to fill the holes. Give us the answers and we can go from there. We can move on as a family.” —Felicia Morgan Felicia Morgan recounts the imprecise explanation offered for the death of her incarcerated brother, Clifton Morgan, at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). Clifton Morgan was the forty- second person to die while under the care of OPP since April 2006, following the prison’s reestablishment after Hurricane Katrina. His family continues to struggle to find answers to the conditions surrounding what could have been a preventable suicide. Morgan entered the jail while taking medications for mental health deficiencies, but was denied treatment once under prison control, a denial his family members blame for his death. The Morgans are not alone in their puzzlement involving the death of a family member incarcerated in OPP. A series of wrongful death lawsuits against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman highlights the struggles of many families whose loved ones have died while in OPP custody. Once an inmate is removed from a sheriff’s official custody, their death is subject to little or no inquiry. This leads to a lack of accountability for prison violence, perpetuation of dangerous confinement conditions, and often a failure to properly notify next-of-kin of inmate whereabouts. For example, a failure to notify next-of-kin occurred following the release of John Michael “Mike” Williams from OPP. Mike Williams became unconscious while in OPP lockup and unbeknownst to his family was released from custody upon his move to the intensive-care unit at Interim LSU Hospital. An automated jail phone system, and later a jail employee, told Bonita Williams, Mike’s sister, that her brother had been released, but did not instruct as to his whereabouts. Because Mike Williams was sick with HIV/AIDS, Bonita’s search for her brother began with the public hospital, where hospital employees incorrectly told her they did not have her brother in care. After seven days of searching other hospitals, homeless shelters, and various areas across New Orleans, Bonita discovered her brother had been under the public hospital’s care since the start of her search. Even more concerning is OPP’s failure or delay in notifying families of inmate deaths. Cheryl Washington can attest to such a failure. Her husband, Kerry Washington, died in custody two days after transfer to OPP in April 2006. Yet, Cheryl was not notified of her husband’s in-custody death until two weeks after the fact. The Washingtons’ story is just one of many citing failures, delays, and incomplete notifications of family members’ deaths while in OPP custody. While OPP, a local jail, provides specific examples of reporting failures in the case of in-custody death, the problem is not unique to the city of New Orleans or the state of Louisiana. Instead, the lack of a national standard governing death notification in state run penitentiaries creates problems reaching far beyond OPP, resulting in inhumane treatment of prisoners and their families across many states. Because Louisiana is a jurisdiction particularly in need of reform in this area of the law, it is given special attention in this Comment. This Comment addresses the need for Louisiana to implement legislative standards for death notification of next-of- kin in the event of an inmate death. Death notification to next-of- kin is necessary to uphold the basic human dignity of inmates, a concept that is traceable to the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, such legislation will protect inmates’ families from mental anguish in the event of an in-custody death. Louisiana should implement general death notification standards in the prison system and may look to other states’ policies as guidance. Section II explains the underlying right to death notification of next-of-kin in the event of an in-custody death, considering both the dignity owed to the life of a prisoner and the separate right of their family members to receive notification. The section first explains current treatment of death notification to next-of- kin in the event of a Louisiana state prison in-custody death. It then studies possible local effects of the 2013 New Orleans Parish Prison Consent Decree (Consent Decree) on death notification procedures. Next, Section III considers other instances in which death notification must take place. First, the section critiques death notification procedures of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, notification procedures in place in other state prisons, and death notification in other contexts, specifically military service death notification procedures. The section then analyzes the differences and similarities of those death notification contexts with notifications in the state prison setting. Lastly, Section IV suggests a legislative solution that the state should consider to address the sensitive subject of death notification. This Comment proposes classes of persons to be notified in the event of an in-custody death and possible manners of notification, while considering the costs of implementing such a program. Specifically, Louisiana may draw from existing Louisiana Civil Code provisions in designating classes of family members to be notified in an event of an inmate death. This Comment proposes solutions with two goals in mind: respecting the human dignity of prisoners and avoiding infliction of mental anguish and trauma on deceased inmates’ next-of-kin.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/34
ISSN: 0192-9720
Appears in Collections:Law Review

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