Militant Journalism

’44! No more!’ Baton Rouge prison reform activists mobilize caravans for justice after latest death

On Dec. 7, the East Baton Rouge Prison Reform Coalition held a vigil and march after the 44th death in Parish Prison since 2012 — a number that far surpasses deaths in jail when compared with national data.

“Words have power — they have energy. And what our leaders believe is that there is not any power in these names,” said Linda Franks of the East Baton Rouge Prison Reform Coalition whose son’s name was read among the 44 names. 

Frank’s son, Lamar Johnson, was arrested for having tinted windows en route to picking up his grandmother from dialysis in 2016. Parish prison officials claim he committed suicide while in custody.

As the 44 names were being read, Coalition activists placed a rose honoring those who have died from medical neglect and other uninvestigated circumstances, such as suspicious claims of suicide.

Liberation photo

“That is eight years we’ve had 43 people die in that jail and sadly we will be adding to that list today,” said Franks who was among the initiators who formed the coalition four years ago.

Marcus Morris, 61, was arrested and booked on Oct. 28 for failure to appear in court for several minor offenses. He had numerous medical issues, but after showing signs of distress, was written off as having mental disorders. When Morris did not get up to eat breakfast, he was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“We will fight for justice. Enough is enough,” said Casey Tobin “They will not be forgotten.”

“Mr. Marcus Morris was a human being and a member of our community. … We asked for those who have been impacted by this facility in any way — and Lord knows, if you’re from Louisiana you probably know someone if you haven’t been there yourself — we want to hear your stories,” said Tobin referring to the dilapidated jail that is surrounded by mud and barbed wire with even worse conditions inside.

“We want your voices and we want your vote. We need you to make the changes that we are demanding today. Do not let Mr. Morris or any of the other names who died by the conditions in the prison to go unanswered,” exclaimed Tobin.

“We demand that the District Attorney investigate Mr. Morris’s death as a homicide,” Franks said as she read the Coalition’s demands.

“We are demanding that the Louisiana Department of Health and hospitals provide the healthcare to the Parish prison.”

Currently Parish prison’s health provider is the private company CorrectHealth, which declined to comment on Morris death.

“The time is now. We can change this. We’re not going to look away.”

“We have to stop marginalizing ourselves and even what our possibilities are and the levels of compassion that we can reach and the things that we can do.

“We want to give the community the knowledge how to navigate through this system until we can tear it apart and put it back together with equitable justice,” concluded Franks. 

The Coalition is organizing a car caravan for justice on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m. For more information, visit the East Baton Rouge Prison Reform Coalition Facebook page.

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