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Inmate Suicide Highlights Louisiana High Solitary Confinement Rate

Jamal Harris, 23, was a prisoner who died by suicide while being held in solitary segregation at Elayn Hunt correctional facility in Louisiana. Harris's mother and fellow prisoners said he was consistently denied his psychiatric medication and requests for medical emergency help. “The prison guards weren’t even making rounds like they were supposed to,” said one prisoner. “He wasn’t stable and they knew that because they weren’t giving him any of his medication. They were supposed to put him on suicide watch.” Jovon Harris, Jamal’s mother, said her son had been pleading for mental help all day, but received no assistance or treatment. Harris’s death has cast a harsh spotlight on Louisiana’s use of solitary confinement within its prisons, which has been repeatedly criticized by prisoners’ rights advocates, reports The Guardian. In 2017, the state reported that 19 percent of the men in its state prisons had been in solitary confinement for at least two weeks, with many prisoners spending months or years in solitary. The state's rate of solitary use is more than double the next highest state’s rate, and four times the national average. In a 2019 report, the non-profit watchdog organization Solitary Watch dubbed Louisiana the solitary confinement capital of the world.

Another Louisiana prisoner reported having spent many days in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day or more, with some time permitted for showers or phone calls, but no access to rehabilitative or recreational facilities. Meals are provided through an open slot in the cell doors. Inmates said they are given no cleaning materials outside of an occasional broom. There are no towels provided when showering and inmates use their dirty jumpsuit as a towel when clean jumpsuits are provided. When it’s cold, is no heat in the prison and when it is warm, there is no air conditioning. Complaints from prisoners, ranging from basic necessities to health treatment, are ignored and cause conflict with prison guards, they said, because of the lack of resources. “This degenerates further into guards treating these matters as symptoms of disobedience rather than symptoms of mental illness or human needs unmet. Almost every day some inmate has been maced with pepper spray for these reasons. It makes me cough and choke and struggle to breathe during the day and in the middle of the night while sleeping,” an inmate said. The prisoner argued these conditions and the lack of medical attention to Jamal Harris contributed to his suicide.


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