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Will High Louisiana Prison Deaths Rate Rise Under New Governor?

Lois Ratcliff says she hardly survived watching her son slowly die in one of the south’s most brutal prisons. Ratcliff’s son, Farrell Sampier, was one of the at least 500 incarcerated people – most of whom were Black men over the age of 55 – who died in Louisiana’s prison system in the last three years, says a report by Loyola University New Orleans’s college of law. Another report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the most prison deaths between 2018 and 2022 occurred at Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison. Sampier not only was in Angola serving a 20-year prison sentence for manslaughter. He was one of the many incarcerated plaintiffs who testified in a class-action lawsuit that in 2023 resulted in federal oversight for the prison, where health care had been deemed deathly inadequate and unconstitutional. While Louisiana appeals the ruling, arguing that Angola’s health care has improved, the state’s prison population is expected to continue aging and dying under the state’s far-right governor Jeff Landry, who took office in January after running on a tough-on-crime platform, The Guardian reports.

He convened a special legislative session this month aimed at enacting criminal justice measures that reform advocates worry could send the state’s incarceration rate soaring again and put even more people in the position Sampier was once in. That’s a frightening proposition for advocates who know Sampier was one of at least 1,600 incarcerated people to die within Louisiana lockups – including pre-trial jails and juvenile detention centers – from 2015 to 2021. The Loyola report founda 50% spike in deaths at Louisiana incarceration centers from 2019 to 2022. During his time incarcerated, Sampier was diagnosed with transverse myelitis – an inflammation of the spine. He eventually lost use of his legs, forcing him to get around using a wheelchair. His health declined steadily until his death in 2019, which resulted from a stroke, pneumonia and sepsis. Sampier’s health didn’t become an albatross until he was put behind bars.


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