Recap of NOLA CLE: Civil Rights in Custody

On February 14th and 15th, NPAP hosted the CLE seminar Civil Rights in Custody: Jail, Prison, and Police Detention. Incarceration, whether in the form of pre-trial detention, immigration detainment, or sentenced imprisonment, is an inherently traumatic and painful experience. It separates those forced to endure it from their families and communities, and upends the structure and routine of their life. But too often, incarceration inflicts injustices beyond this: stripping individuals of their humanity, and resulting in the denial of their basic human rights and dignities. Ensuring that such rights are retained often hinges on single cases or class lawsuits which serve to challenge the violence of the prison system and expose its injustices. Many of our panelists spoke on their experiences in litigating or researching such cases and offered guidance for other attorneys and legal workers who sought to do the same. 

Panelists, including Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative, John Adcock of the Law Office of John N. Adcock, and Paul Wright, co-founder and editor of Prison Legal News, stressed the importance of relationship building in these cases. Mercedes spoke of empowering doctors to speak to the injustices they witnessed in their treatment of prisoner ailments, and their unique ability to recognize and report patterns in prisoner mistreatment and negligent medical care. John and Paul each described the dangers of, perhaps well-intentioned, lawyers who failed to listen and adhere to their client’s wishes, even if it presented a more difficult or not-winnable case. Building those genuine relationships of trust and mutual respect is critical to carrying cases to fruition and fighting for more systemic change. 

Professor Andrea Armstrong, from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, as well as Laura Ives of Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives and Garrett DeReus, of Bizer & DeReus, all provided excellent practical suggestions for case litigation. Andrea and Laura spoke to their extensive experience in litigating rape cases, while DeReus discussed unique challenges and angles to litigation utilizing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their presentations were immensely technically informative, while remaining cognizant of the sensitivity and trauma often involved in such trials.  

Speakers Emma Freduenberger, of Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin LLP and Michael Bien, of Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld LLP offered critical insight into the current state of withdrawal and overdose treatment in custodial settings, and the urgent need for reform. Michael provided context and an intellectual framework with which to consider different avenues of reform, while Emma was able to offer a detailed analysis of a recent case she had litigated and its ramifications. It was an incredibly informative session, and helped to provide not only details on the current status of the injustice, but tangible alternatives–such as efforts in Harris County, TX to shift away from having individuals detox in custodial settings and instead providing alternative centers with adequate medical staff–to argue for when challenging the way such cases are handled.

Other speakers explored similarly critical topics, including Lydia Wright, who spoke of the abuse of power allegedly occurring within immigration detention facilities across the US where a private contractor, GEO, has been accused of relying on forced labor from detained immigrants. We are so grateful to the speakers who gave their time and expertise, as well as the attendees who posed challenging and thoughtful questions and opened important dialogues throughout the seminar. It was such an honor to work with all of them, and NPAP looks forward to continuing to grow with and learn from our speakers and attendees at future events. If you’re interested in joining a community of individuals committed to holding police accountable and ensuring justice for victims, consider signing up to become a member with NPAP today.

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