After Dozens Of Deaths, A Jail Faces Intense Scrutiny

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William Anderson
November 6, 2019

People dying in jail under mysterious circumstances has forever tainted the reputation of Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. This problem has been one of concern for a community that wants to know how something like this could happen in the first place. 

As The Appeal reports, “More than 40 prisoners have died in custody since 2012 under the watch of Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III, who took office in 2007.” The deaths have not been enough to stop Sheriff Gautreaux from keeping his place in office, since he was recently reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote. 


The staggering number of deaths “occurred at a rate 2.5 times the national average,” according to a report from researchers at the Promise of Justice Initiative. 

What’s ultimately been revealed by the entire ordeal is a crisis that many feel has everything to do with neglect. And such neglect has led to an exorbitant number of preventable deaths. 

Louisiana long held the record for incarcerating more people than all the other states and many other countries in the world, though Oklahoma now holds the number one spot. Information from the Prison Policy Initiative shows that Louisiana’s incarceration rate stands out even when compared to other countries, like the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, exceeding them by thousands.  

Still, Louisiana remains first when it comes to prison deaths per capita. The East Baton Rouge Parish facility accounted for 12% of deaths in local jails between 2012 and 2014 in Louisiana, a Promise of Justice Initiative report shows. 

Black inmates like Antwoin Harden and Lamar Johnson highlight the wide range of issues unfolding under the watch of authorities at the jail facility. Harden died after a blood clot entered into his lungs, leading family to accuse the jail of neglecting to provide treatment for his sickle cell anemia. 

Johnson was found hanging in his cell, which drew skepticism from family “who questioned whether foul play was involved and wondered how their cheerful loved one could have suddenly veered toward self-harm.” For the Black community, his case raises similar suspicions that circulated after the “suicide” of Sandra Bland, whose death in the custody of the Waller County Jail in Texas made international headlines.

The primary concern for most is that what happened to Bland is happening multiple times over at this one facility in Louisiana. And, to many, it feels like more than a coincidence in a state that leads the nation in prison deaths per capita.

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