After the ACLU of Louisiana reported that St. Tammany Parish officials were keeping suicidal prisoners in cages three feet square for extended periods of time, the Parish has now agreed to provide more humane treatment for the most vulnerable prisoners held there. Last month, the ACLU called upon Sheriff Jack Strain to stop keeping suicidal prisoners in "squirrel cages" clad in short "hot pants" and with inadequate access to bathroom facilities. These cages, one-fourth the size of those required for dogs, sometimes held prisoners for days and even weeks at a time.
New policies adopted by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office provide that instead of the cages, suicidal prisoners will now be housed in a holding cell monitored by guards, where prisoners will have access to bathrooms, potable water, and beds. Prisoners on suicide watch will be given jumpsuits and clothed as modestly as possible. The cages will be used only as a last resort in emergency situations, only on order of a doctor when no alternative is available, and for no more than ten hours at a time. Additionally, a new position has been created as a "jail inspector," who will oversee conditions in the jail.
"These changes are long past due," said Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. "No one should be held in the conditions that existed in St. Tammany Parish jail. It's unfortunate that it took public exposure of these serious problems in order to have them corrected, but we're relieved that conditions should improve for the most vulnerable people in the Sheriff's custody."
Additional problems not directly addressed by these changes include inadequate sanitary supplies for women, many of whom have been denied menstrual pads and report bleeding on themselves for several days. "The new jail inspector will, we hope, address other systemic problems with the St. Tammany Parish jail," Esman continued. "We welcome these reforms and will continue to monitor conditions with the hope of long-term improvement.