There are credible reports of severe abuse by some correctional officers against prisoners who had been transferred to Jena from Jefferson Parish Prison after Hurricane Katrina forced their evacuation. Given the number of inmates who have said they have been victims of abuse or have seen others being abused and the consistency of their accounts, immediate action is warranted.

Dear Secretary Stalder:

We urge you to act quickly to end any and all ongoing abuses against inmates being held at the Jena Correctional Facility. As you know, there are credible reports of severe abuse by some correctional officers against prisoners who had been transferred to Jena from Jefferson Parish Prison after Hurricane Katrina forced their evacuation. Inmates have claimed correctional officers beat them, kicked them, forced their faces against walls sprayed with mace, and wiped their faces and hair in vomit. Given the number of inmates who have said they have been victims of this abuse or have seen others being abused and the consistency of their accounts, immediate action on your part is warranted.

We hope you will immediately and forcefully communicate to the staff at Jena that the Department has a zero-tolerance policy with regard to unnecessary or excessive use of force against inmates, and any officer who violates this policy will be held accountable administratively and, where appropriate, be subject to criminal prosecution.

It is our understanding that you have said you would be sending staff to conduct an investigation. We believe that any investigation should be conducted by the Department’s internal affairs staff in coordination with the state’s inspector general. In light of the criminal nature of what has been claimed, we urge you to ask the police to conduct an investigation as well. The results of such investigations should be made public promptly.

Furthermore, the investigation should not be limited to the nature of any mistreatment inflicted on inmates and determining who was responsible. It should also include whether the staff at Jena have been properly instructed in department policies and whether they have been properly supervised. As you know, the staff at Jena is not not limited to members of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections but includes officers brought in from other jurisdictions to open up, on an emergency basis, a facility that had been closed. Your investigation should also assess whether the department had in place appropriate plans to provide safe and humane housing to thousands of inmates in the event of a massive evacuation such as just occurred.

We recognize that you and your department have faced and continue to face extraordinary challenges in responding to Katrina, taking care of inmates under state jurisdiction as well as those who have been held in local parish prisons before the hurricane. But whatever the exigencies, there can be no excuse for the kind of wanton, malicious treatment reported by the inmates.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the situation at Jena and our concerns. Our researcher in Louisiana, Corinne Carey, will call your office to follow up on the possibility of such a meeting.

Sincerely,

Jamie Fellner, Esq.
Director, U.S. Program
Human Rights Watch