Louisiana judge approves settlement in class action suit on behalf of people on death row in Angola prison

Louisiana judge approves settlement in class action suit on behalf of people on death row in Angola prison

Press releases | 29 September 2021

New York, 29 September 2021 – The Civil Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, global law firm Hogan Lovells, and New Orleans attorney Nicholas Trenticosta announced today that they have reached court approved settlement of a class action challenging the placement of all incarcerated individuals on Death Row in Louisiana in indefinite solitary confinement. 

“The settlement reflects a substantial change in the conditions for people on death row in Louisiana and we are grateful that officials there have been willing partners on this, though we hope that they and other states will recognize how providing even greater access to exercise, recreation, education, religious worship and socialization is critical the physical and psychological health of the people in their custody,” said Betsy Ginsberg, director of Cardozo’s Civil Rights Clinic. 

In a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in 2017, plaintiffs claimed the automatic, irrevocable practice of holding all people sentenced to death in permanent solitary confinement violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. 

At the time the suit was filed, people on death row were given one hour per day out of their cells by themselves. The only outdoor recreation they had was in solitary cages and all their meals were taken in their cells, by themselves. No group activities of any kind were allowed.

An order effectuating the settlement, issued by Judge Shelly D. Dick, requires a number of changes, including:

A minimum of four hours of congregate time seven days per week.

A minimum of five hours per week of congregate outdoor recreation. The settlement provides for certain recreation equipment, such as a basketball hoop and weights, and a grassy area.

Additional out of cell time for at least one congregate meal per day.

Congregate religious worship.

Group classes, including GED and the opportunity to take new courses.

Contact visits.

“Long term solitary confinement, which in the case of many on Louisiana’s Death Row meant several decades, inflicts severe harm. We are grateful to have part of the effort to bring real change to the individuals on Death Row,” said Hogan Lovells partner Pieter Van Tol. 

In addition to Van Tol (New York), the Hogan Lovells team included Senior Associate Garima Malhotra (Philadelphia).