Inmates taken to the Jena Correctional Facility after evacuation from the Jefferson Parish Prison due to Hurricane Katrina claim that officers at Jena have beaten and mistreated them, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Human Rights Watch urged Richard Stalder, secretary of the state corrections department, to end any abuse of inmates at Jena and to open an immediate investigation into their claims of mistreatment.
Inmates at Jena claim that correctional officers have beaten, kicked and hit them while they were shackled. In addition, they claim that officers have forced inmates to stay kneeling for several hours at a stretch, and then hit them if they fell. They also say that officers sprayed the walls with chemical spray that inmates believed was mace and forced inmates to hold their faces against the sprayed walls. When some inmates became ill and vomited, officers wiped their faces and hair in the vomit, they said.
The inmates provided their accounts to lawyers and their investigators who were meeting with them to determine their legal status. Human Rights Watch is trying to get access to the Jena Correctional Facility to interview inmates there.
“It appears that men who have been through the horrors of Katrina were then subjected to new horrors at the hands of prison officers,” said Corinne Carey, researcher in the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. “The number and consistency of the reports inmates have made about their abuse makes their claims extremely credible.”
Hurricane Katrina led to the evacuation of inmates from parish prisons in areas hit hard by the hurricane. These inmates were then taken to different state correctional facilities. Some 450 inmates from the Jefferson Parish Prison were taken to the correctional facility in Jena. Formerly a facility for juveniles, Jena was shut down because of serious abuse of the juveniles who had been held there. It was re-opened to house inmates evacuated because of the hurricane. According to inmates, they were locked into dorms at Jena and not allowed to use any telephones, even though they had no idea what had happened to their families and their families did not know where they were. When some inmates on Saturday, September 3, began yelling at the guards demanding to use the phones, the guards responded with abuse.
Human Rights Watch asked Stalder to ascertain whether the staff at Jena—who are not all members of his department, but who have been drawn from other jurisdictions, including New York City—were properly trained in department policies and adequately supervised.