Jul 8, 2010 3:24 PM by Melissa Canone
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A Louisiana jail routinely humiliates
suicidal prisoners by forcing them to wear skimpy shorts that say
"Hot Stuff" on the rear and confines them in tiny "squirrel
cages" for weeks at a time, a civil liberties group said Thursday.
In an open letter to St. Tammany Parish officials, the American
Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana says it is unconstitutional for
the parish jail to confine prisoners in cages that are three feet
wide, three feet long and seven feet tall. Guards and prisoners
refer to them as squirrel cages, the ACLU says.
"We understand that the cages have been frequently used to hold
more than one prisoner at a time, and that staff often ignore
prisoners' requests to use the bathroom, forcing people to urinate
in discarded milk cartons," wrote Marjorie Esman, the group's
A St. Tammany Parish code requires dogs to be kept in cages that
are at least six feet wide and six feet deep, larger than the cages
that prisoners are using, Esman wrote.
The ACLU also claims suicidal prisoners are forced to wear
bright orange "short shorts" with "Hot Stuff" scrawled in pen
on the rear.
"These conditions are clearly unconstitutional," Esman wrote.
The group is calling on Sheriff Jack Strain and Parish President
Kevin Davis to stop using the cages and create more humane housing
for suicidal prisoners.
A sheriff's office spokesman didn't immediately return a call
for comment. A spokeswoman for the parish president's office said
she couldn't immediately comment.
ACLU attorney Katharine Schwartzmann said the allegations are
based on interviews with current and former prisoners as well as
testimony from the jail's medical director, Demaree Inglese.
"This is basically an attempt to avoid litigation,"
Schwartzmann said. "We've been getting letters from prisoners
about this for quite a while."
In April, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit that claims dozens of
accused criminals with mental illnesses are languishing in parish
jails for months when they should be getting treatment at a
state-funded hospital. The suit says the Feliciana Forensic
Facility in Jackson, La., hasn't been adequately funded and doesn't
have room for all the detainees in need of treatment that jails
aren't equipped to provide.