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First Inmate Death of 2020 Renews Concerns Over Health Services in Parish Jail

Wallis Watkins
East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

The suicide of an inmate at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is raising concerns among prison reform advocates and some city-parish officials about the quality of mental health services available inside to parish jail.

Shaheed Claiborne took his own life Monday, hours after a facility social worker took him off “mental health observation.”

Claiborne’s death is the first in the parish jail this year, and the 41st since 2012.

Claiborne, was arrested Saturday when he tried to break into a drug and alcohol detox center in Baton Rouge. Arrest documents describe Claiborne in distress, alleging he threatened occupants of the center and rammed his body through a locked door when he was told the facility was not yet open.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks said in a statement that CorrectHealth employees conducted a standard medical screening of Claiborne when he was booked, and subsequently placed him under “mental health observation.”

Among other restrictions, inmates under “mental health observation” are given special clothes and bedding that cannot be used for self-harm.

Hicks said a member of the medical staff met with Claiborne Sunday morning and determined that those restrictions were no longer necessary.

But hours later, Claiborne was found dead in his cell.

Claiborne’s death comes as prison reform advocates question the quality of mental health services provided by CorrectHealth, the private contractor responsible for medical care in the parish jail since January 2017.

At least 17 inmates have died in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison since CorrectHealth took over, and in 2018 researchers at the Promise of Justice Initiative reported the jail’s death rate was more than twice the national average.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called the incident tragic, but said conditions in the jail are improving.

Her administration points to the accreditation CorrectHealth received from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care last year after a review of their services at the jail.

“Access to mental health care is critical to my administration,” Broome said in a statement Thursday. “That is why I mandated that the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison medical team achieve national accreditation for its healthcare services, which they recently achieved.”

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.