Just a quick read through some of the allegations in a lawsuit over medical care at Angola prison will leave even the most hardened political observer shocked.
The lawsuit, which is being heard in federal court, hasn’t proven anything yet. But if even a few of the charges turn out to be substantiated by testimony and other evidence, our state criminal justice system must begin to account for better medical care for prisoners.
Here are a few of the allegations:
One prisoner was denied medical attention repeatedly as he was suffering a stroke, a medical care failure that left him blind and paralyzed.
Another was denied chemotherapy to treat the bone cancer that eventually killed him.
And a blind prisoner was prevented from having a cane to help him walk.
It also alleges that the suit itself is the only reason some prisoners have begun to get the medical care to which they should be entitled.
There are more, and the court will sort out which, if any, have merit. But the thought that any of these things could have taken place behind the walls of a state prison is troubling.
Dr. Raman Singh, who was the Correction Department’s medical director during the time these alleged failures took place, has stated that the medical care at Angola meets the requirements set by national standards.
It is tempting for some to dismiss any treatment of prisoners as allowable and understandable. But the state owes a duty to anyone under its care – as prisoners are – and the most basic medical care is among the expectations any of us would have for loved ones if they were in similar circumstances.
Because many of the prisoners at Angola are serving life sentences, that prison has a large elderly population. That means that a large number of prisoners will eventually find themselves under some sort of medical care for serious conditions. The state cannot simply leave their care up to fate. When prisoners have treatable diseases or conditions, they must receive the necessary treatment.
And the state also cannot be allowed to hide behind budgetary excuses. The cost of medical treatment is included in the cost of keeping a person incarcerated. The state must pay for the medical needs that arise once these prisoners are in prison custody.
If the allegations in this lawsuit – and they are still simply allegations – are proven during the ongoing trial, Louisiana will have to reconsider the way it addresses the needs of its prison population.
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