Suit resolved for lawyers investigating alleged inmate abuse

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A settlement has resolved a lawsuit that accused Louisiana prison officials of blocking attorneys from investigating "alarming" allegations of inmate abuse, including claims that mentally ill prisoners were forced to kneel or bend down and bark like dogs to get food.

A federal judge on Thursday signed off on the settlement agreement between prison officials and the Advocacy Center, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that filed the suit last month.

The 22-page agreement spells out procedures for lawyers to visit David Wade Correctional Center in Homer and interview disabled prisoners and staff members.

The settlement doesn't resolve any potential claims that prisoners may have over their alleged abuse, nor does it include any admission of wrongdoing by prison officials.

Attorneys visited the north Louisiana prison in June to investigate claims they received that inmates have been slapped, punched, kicked, sprayed with Mace and bleach, and stripped of clothing during the winter.

In their lawsuit, lawyers from the Advocacy Center and the MacArthur Justice Center claimed prison officials had prevented them from interviewing inmates and staff members.

Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc, Wade Correctional Center warden Jerry Goodwin and a colonel at the prison were named as defendants in the suit.

The suit said federal laws give the Advocacy Center "broad access rights" to prisoners and prison records so it can investigate allegations of neglect and abuse involving inmates with disabilities. For months, the suit says, the center has been receiving complaints of "serious abuse" of inmates at the Homer prison, which opened in 1980 and can house up to 1,244 inmates.

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