ACLU Lawsuit Gets Prisoner's Extended Sentence Reduced

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
December 16, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU of Louisiana
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NEW ORLEANS – Today the ACLU of Louisiana confirmed that the Louisiana Department of Corrections has partially relented in its punishment of Ernest Billizone, a prisoner whose sentence was lengthened by nine months simply for writing complaints to prison officials about a prison employee’s behavior.

In reaching its decision, the Department of Corrections noted that although they believed that it was appropriate to discipline Ernest Billizone for his written complaints, the sanction originally imposed was excessive.

This past summer prison officials took issue with complaints Mr. Billizone wrote, although they contained no objectionable language or threats of unlawful or improper action. In one instance, the Louisiana Department of Corrections accused him of “spreading rumors” and lengthened his prison sentence for his written complaint. However, over 4 years ago United States District Court Judge Brady of the Middle District of Louisiana ruled that punishing a prisoner for “spreading rumors” was unconstitutional. Prison officials flouted the law by charging Mr. Billizone with “spreading rumors,” despite Judge Brady’s clear and unequivocal ruling.

ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said: “Although we are happy Mr. Billizone won’t have to spend nearly another year in prison for merely complaining, we’re still troubled that he is being punished. Ernest had to spend time in isolation and the Louisiana Department of Corrections still thinks it is okay to punish prisoners for writing grievances.”

ACLU Prison Litigation Fellow Barry Gerharz, who represents Mr. Billizone, said “Any punishment for written complaints scares other prisoners from filing meritorious complaints about prison conditions. A prisoner beaten by a guard may be scared to write a complaint if, like Ernest, he might be punished for the contents of his complaint.”

ACLU Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman added, “The ACLU of Louisiana will continue to fight whenever someone faces time in prison merely for exercising the Constitutional right to complain about government behavior.”

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