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No More "Squirrel Cages" in Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish

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August 24, 2010

Last month, we told you about the "squirrel cages" in Louisiana: 3-by 3-foot metal cages that St. Tammany Parish officials use to detain mentally ill, suicidal prisoners. The ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter (PDF) to parish Sheriff Jack Strain informing him that locking prisoners in these cages was inhumane and unconstitutional.

After some he-said, we-said, today we're happy to report that the St. Tammany Parish sheriff's office has issued a new set of policies for the treatment of suicidal prisoners. Now, instead of locking them in cages, they will be housed in a holding cell monitored by guards. Instead of urinating in milk cartons, which the previous practice allowed, prisoners will have access to bathrooms and potable water. Instead of sleeping on the floor of the cage, mentally ill prisoners will now have beds. And instead of being forced to wear Daisy Duke-style shorts with the words "HOT STUFF" scrawled across the backside, prisoners on suicide watch will be given jumpsuits and clothed as modestly as possible.

And, a bonus: a new position has been created as a "jail inspector," who will oversee conditions in the jail. (Hopefully this jail inspector will do something about the lack of sanitary napkins for female prisoners — a few have reported being denied pads during their periods. We don't have to tell you what the alternative is — and it's not tampons.)

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