5/29/2010

Louisiana Prisoners and their Families Denied Contact Visits

Recently inmates housed at Louisiana Penitentiary’s RC CCR (closed cell restrictions or solitary confinement) units have been denied normal contact visits and privileges. Even after contact visits have been approved and some visitors have travelled across the country at considerable expenses. This is primarily due to the actions of security officer Lt. Gail Smothers. In multiple instances, stretching back to 2009, Lt Smothers has denied visitors contact by creating rules which are not a part of the CCR contact visiting policy.

Inmates at LA State Prison are allowed ten (10) people at any time on their Approved visiting list. This list constitutes those individuals who have completed the prison’s necessary paperwork and who have submitted to a comprehensive police background check. Upon acceptance the applicant is listed on the inmate’s approved visiting list and may then visit up to 2 times a month.

Contact visiting is the normal policy for inmates at Angola. Only those inmates assigned to punitive housing units are restricted to non-contact visits. While CCR is a non-punitive housing unit, CCR inmates are allowed only 2 contact visits a month. All other visits received in a month by CCR inmates are held in CCR’s non-contact visiting booths (small, closet like spaces with inmates and visitor separated by a thick mesh screen). The reason given for this policy is the lack of visiting space for large numbers of contact visits on the RC CCR unit. As opposed to the main prison compound with its large visiting room capable of accomodating over 100 inmates and their visitors at a time with inmates run food concessions, CCR’s far smaller contact visiting room may only accommodate 30-40 people. Consequently, only 5 contacts may be scheduled each visiting day for the roughly 90 inmates housed in CCR.

Given such limited space for contact visits at CCR the units policy requires inmates to submit requests for approval often months in advance to reserve an available date. When a CCR inmate submits a request for contact visitation he is merely reserving a date. On that date any visitor from his visiting list who arrives – up to a total of 5 – may enjoy a visit under normal contact visiting procedures. This requirement is merely to insure that no more then 5 contact visits are scheduled for any visiting day. CCR inmates are NOT required to also seek approval for those visitors, since they are already on the Approved visiting list.

This is the point of contention between inmates, visitors and Lt. Smothers. Visitors, upon arriving at Louisiana State Prison are being allowed into the prison – but upon arrival at the CCR unit – being denied a contact visit and forced into non contact visiting booths. Lt. Smothers has repeatedly denied contact visits by claiming only visitors whose names are submitted in advance for a contact visit may then visit contact. CCR inmates are not required to submit the names of their visitors when requesting a visitation date.

To re- approve a visitor as a visitor is a rule only Lt. Smothers has decided to create and enforce. A rule she has no authority to impose as she is not involved in any manner with approving visitors or scheduling visits. Those procedures are the responsibility of the institutes Investigative Service Dept. and CCR’s Assistant Warden.

The difficulties this has created for visitors in wasted money, time and travel has already been addressed by verbal complaints to Lt. Smothers’ superiors up to the unit’s Assistant Warden and by submitting grievances through the institutions Administrative Remedy Procedure (A.R.P.). A grievance procedure available for inmates to seek relieve for wrongs within the institution.

In April 2010, RC CCR col. Menzia resolved a grievance filed by verbally informing Lt. Smothers of the proper contact visiting policy and ordering how to stop denying inmates and their visitors approved contact visits.

Approximately 1 week later, Col. Menzia was transferred to another unit as a new Assistant Warden. Immediately afterwards Lt. Smothers returned to her previous practices. Over the weekend of April 24th and 25th Lt. Smothers denied at least 2 inmates their pre-approved contact visits without proper authority, with one visitor having travelled from California. When incidents like this occur inmates and their visitors are left without recourse as over the weekend Lt. Smothers may be the highest ranking officer on duty at CCR. No appeal can be made to any superior at that time.

This presents an identifiable hardship as many family members and friends must plan months in advance to schedule their contact visits – as they come from long distances and may only visit a few times a year they specifically plan for contact visits, which entails the costs of flight tickets, rental cars, hotels reservations and often time taken off from work.

Inmates with elderly or infirm family members schedule contact visits for the extra room and ease provided versus the cramped and difficult conditions of the non-contact visiting booths.
When Lt. Smothers then denies approved contact visits without authority, inmates are not recredited with a contact visit for that month, nor are visitors reimbursed their expenses.

Those concerned can help stop Lt. Smothers by calling warden Burl Cain’s office at (001) 225-655-4411 or Secretary of Corrections James LeBlanc. Letters of concern may be faxed to (001) 225 655-2319.

YOUR ACTIONS AS CONCERNED CITIZENS HAVE AN IMPACT!!

On behalf of all my fellow inmates, Kenny Zulu Whitmore.

In the Land of the Free

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