In an Ominous Pattern, People Are Dying Once Transferred to Louisiana Prison

On November 18, 2020, 37-year-old Javon Kennerson was transferred to Louisiana’s Catahoula Correctional Center, a prison that until recently was run by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison corporation. Less than one month later, after a series of mental health crises, hospitalizations and prison officials’ apparent failure to supervise and monitor him, Kennerson was dead.

Across LaSalle’s constellation of prisons, several dozen people have died from delays in medical treatment or the lack of necessary medical treatment since 2014. Four of those deaths were caused by delays in medical treatment or lack thereof. occurred at Catahoula. LaSalle has been sued for failing to provide medical treatment in at least 105 cases over the past five-years.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Louisiana has not only the highest rate of per-capita imprisonment, but also the highest. highest death-in-custody rate786 deaths occurred between 2015-2019. The majority of deaths (nearly 86%) were caused by cancer. related to medical illnesses; less than half of all deaths from a medical condition that existed before incarceration.A 2021 report prepared for the Louisiana legislature found a number of barriers to accessing basic health care in state-run prisons, including medical co-pays, lack of annual exams and preventive care, lack of confidentiality in requesting sick call visits, and threats of malingering charges, which can result in forfeiting earned good time (thus prolonging incarceration) or loss of visits and canteen (the ability to buy food and other items from the prison’s sole store).

Over a year later, Kennerson’s mother, Jennifer Bartie, still doesn’t know why her son died. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain his medical files, she filed suit against LaSalle Corrections and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Prison officials and the companies that insure LaSalle and the DPSC as well as the parish sheriff were also sued.

A Dramatic Deterioration

Kennerson was in prison since 2013. Kennerson was in prison since 2013. “He never talked about any type of mistreatment,” Bartie told Truthout.She did not worry about him and he had no mental or medical issues. “The only thing he complained about was the food,” she said, noting that Kennerson had always loved to eat.

This was changed on November 18, 2018., 2020, when Kennerson was transferred to LaSalle’s Catahoula Correctional Center. The prison does not offer ongoing psychiatric treatment. The prison does not provide ongoing psychiatric care.

Kennerson was stripped naked on Thursday, November 19 and ran out of the cell. Prison staff reported Kennerson had attempted to run out of his cell multiple times and refused to wear his clothes the next day, Friday, November 20.. Staff also witnessed him paint his cell with water and urinate on his meal tray.

Prison administrators contacted Louisiana DPSC on Friday to inquire about Kennerson’s situation. Three days later, they contacted DPSC again about Kennerson’s condition, stating that they worried that he would hurt himself or others. That was on Monday. Kennerson would have two more days to be evaluated by medical staff or mental health staff.

On Wednesday, November 25, Kennerson was diagnosed with acute psychosis by mental health staff. Kennerson was recommended by his psychiatrist to be transferred to a prison where he could receive more psychiatric care. He remained at Catahoula.

Kennerson finally got roach killer five days later on November 30. He smoked it.

His mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated, requiring multiple hospitalizations. On December 2, he was unable walk again and had to be transferred in a wheelchair. His limbs were swelling so he couldn’t verbally respond to doctor’s questions.

The doctor declared him medically unstable ten minutes after he arrived at prison clinic. He then sent him to Riverland Medical Center’s emergency room. The medical staff diagnosed him as having rhabdomyolysis and several other serious conditions., An illness in which the skeletal muscles of a person are damaged and then break down quickly. It can be caused either by injury or toxins. He also had hepatitis and a head contusion. There was also a large laceration on his forehead. The hospital was told by prison staff that Kennerson had gotten into the cell door multiple times.

The hospital staff directed Kennerson to be seen within 24 hours by a neurologist. They also gave Kennerson prescription medication to be taken within the next 10 days. Kennerson was discharged the same day and returned to Catahoula. He was still lethargic and unable speak. His body temperature was low, his legs were swollen, and he required a wheelchair to move.

The DPSC was contacted by prison staff again on December 3. They sent medical and emergency records, but Kennerson remained at Catahoula.

Kennerson was brought to the emergency department by prison staff again that evening. He was then intubated. Staff at the hospital noted that he was in a altered mental state.

He was transferred to Lakeview Regional Medical Center the next day. He died eight days later at Lakeview Regional Medical Center on December 12, 2020. The coroner concluded that he died from smoking roach killer.

A Family Operation

LaSalle Corrections operates a relatively small business compared to the private prison giants CoreCivic, GEO Group and GEO Group. handfulCarceral facilitiesIn Arizona, Georgia and Texas. LaSalle Corrections was founded in 1997 and quickly grew so that one in seven Louisiana prisoners was served by them in 2013. were incarcerated in a LaSalle-owned or operated facility.

LaSalle claims to be a’resourceful and creative company. “family operation” based on “family values,”But the company has been plagued by allegations of medical neglect in its facilities and death.

The National Police Accountability Project of the National Lawyers GuildBetween 2014 and 2022, 51 deaths occurred in LaSalle prisons. Many of those deaths are related to medical neglect, says Lauren Bonds, the project’s legal director and co-counsel on Bartie’s lawsuit. “These allegations are pretty uniform from 2015 to today,” she told Truthout.This includes insufficient supervision and a lack access to doctors or other medical personnel. “The things that contributed to Mr. Kennerson’s death are very much the standard operating practice at LaSalle all the way back to 2015.”

Holly Barlow Austin was, for example, in April 2019. arrested for a probation violation and sent to the LaSalle-operated Bi-State JailEast Texas. Although she arrived with serious health issues, including HIV, she was able to move freely and had normal vital signs, according to a lawsuit filed jointly by her mother and husband. Jail staff failed to give her prescription medication and ignored her deteriorating condition. Mid-May saw her placed under medical observation. Surveillance video shows her in her cell writhing and calling out for help. Barlow-Austin started to soil herself and looked pale by the end of the month. Staff failed to check on Barlow-Austin despite these signs and ignored her requests for water and help. Two months after her arrest, medical staff discovered that her pupils had stopped responding to light and she was transferred to the hospital. Six days later, she succumbed to sepsis and meningitis. She also died from HIV/AIDS and accelerated high blood pressure.

Federal auditors also found many instances in which LaSalle staff failed cell inspections or observed people with mental illness or suicidality. Three separate audits revealed that LaSalle prisons failed secure dangerous instruments such as ropes and strings that could be used for self-harm and suicide.

At least nine people have committed suicide in LaSalle prisons since 2015, including Kennerson. Bartie’s lawsuit charges that the prisons’ failures to supervise mentally ill and suicidal people stem from staffing shortages.

This isn’t unusual in a privatized setting, said Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth RisesThe nonprofit identifies companies that profit from incarceration. She points out that this happens in both private prisons and in government-run prisons. outsourced to a private company.

These staffing shortages are more common in rural areas, she said. Catahoula Correctional Center, Harrisonburg, Louisiana, has a staffing shortage of approximately 2,000 people. It was established in 2020. population of 308.

Kennerson may not have received adequate mental healthcare even if he was transferred to a state-run jail. Louisiana’s David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC), for instance, had one part-time psychiatrist to oversee the medication and treatment plansOn average, 72 patients have mental health needs. Also, a 2018 lawsuit charged that DWCC staff punished people with mental illnessThey are chained to wooden chairs and exposed to extreme cold. A psychiatrist is available at the Raymond Laborde Corrections Center. on-site once every two weeks,Dixon Correctional Institute is home to 30 percent of the population. The psychiatrist is only available for six hours each day.

“So many in-custody deaths are because we have an over-incarceration problem in this country and certainly in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world,” stated National Police Accountability Project Legal Director Lauren Bonds.

Louisiana, she said, “needs to end its contract with LaSalle. What caused Mr. Kennerson’s death was that he was in a facility that was so indifferent to his needs that it allowed him to smoke insecticide and engage in other types of self-harming behaviors that significantly injured him. They’ve shown that they’re incapable of improving care for people in custody.”

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections declined comment or answers to questions due to ongoing litigation. TruthoutKennerson received care in its prisons and mental health treatment. Kennerson also signed a contract with LaSalle.

A Family Searches for Answers

Jennifer Bartie last spoke with her son one week before he was transferred from Catahoula. She recalled telling him that one of his childhood friends had died the previous month and that Kennerson offered condolences to the man’s mother. As always, he ended their call by saying, “Love you, mama.”

On December 8, medical staff at the Lakeview Medical Center contacted Bartie’s mother about Kennerson. He was on life support for only four days. Bartie’s mother called Bartie, who left work and, with her husband, three children and 4-year-old grandson, prepared to drive the five hours from their northern Louisiana home to Lakeview. They arrived in Lakeview that evening. COVID protocols only allowed two visitors per night, so they took turns staying with him the following eight days. Kennerson was taken from life support on December 12. The hospital staff allowed his entire family to be there, except for the 4-year old who was watched by a nurse in a lobby, until his final hours.

As a Black mother, Bartie has always worried about her children’s safety from law enforcement. Since Kennerson’s death, she says, those fears have magnified. “I’m a wreck when they walk out that door.” Her youngest child is now a high school senior. Bartie said that he is six-foot two and she worries every time he goes out the door that he might be killed or brutalized by police. “He’s just a big ol’ gentle giant, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but are they gonna know that?” she asked.

Kennerson’s family still doesn’t understand what led to his death. Bartie received incomplete records form Catahoula after repeated requests. These records did not contain any information between November 25th, and December 2. Bartie also received incident reports from Beauregard Parish Southwestern Transitional Program, one of which was incomplete. According to reports, Kennerson was screaming, hitting the bars and yelling on November 17, and that guards had given him two sprays of chemical agent. “It didn’t say anything about what he was yelling and screaming,” Bartie stated.

Bartie’s husband, Darrell, also has questions. He said Truthout that Kennerson, at six-foot-four and 280 pounds, had always been a “tall, solid kid.” At the hospital, he recalled, they could see his collarbone and, if they pulled up his shirt, could count his ribs. “It takes time to get that malnourished,” he said.

He too wants to know the truth. After Kennerson’s death, when he and his wife drove to Catahoula to pick up their son’s belongings, he asked to speak with the warden. The warden declined their request to meet with them. Instead, they were given three garbage bags of their son’s belongings and no answers. “I want to see documentation, I want to see video tape and I want everyone who’s involved to be held accountable,” Darrell told Truthout.

So far, those answers haven’t been forthcoming, prompting Bartie to reach out to attorneys, including the National Police Accountability Project, and to file suit to obtain them.

“It’s year two since my child has passed and I don’t know what’s happened,” Bartie said. “He made some bad decisions, but he didn’t deserve to die in this manner. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, not even those I feel are responsible for his death.”