Case: Williams v. McKeithen

3:71-cv-00098 | U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana

Filed Date: March 26, 1971

Closed Date: May 2, 2006

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This is one of a collection of § 1983 inmate cases filed in Louisiana federal courts to challenge the operation and conditions of confinement in the Louisiana prison system and in parish and city jails through Louisiana. These cases have worked their way through the federal courts over the last four decades and are part of this collection, located at PC-LA, JC-LA and JI-LA.In this case, four Louisiana prison inmates filed a civil rights lawsuit on March 26, 1971, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 …

This is one of a collection of § 1983 inmate cases filed in Louisiana federal courts to challenge the operation and conditions of confinement in the Louisiana prison system and in parish and city jails through Louisiana. These cases have worked their way through the federal courts over the last four decades and are part of this collection, located at PC-LA, JC-LA and JI-LA.

In this case, four Louisiana prison inmates filed a civil rights lawsuit on March 26, 1971, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections [the Department] in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement in violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as class certification. The case was originally styled Williams v. McKeithen, (case no. 71-98B.) and was subsequently styled Williams v. Edwards. (Pleadings and court opinions have used both case captions.)

The plaintiffs filed amended complaints on August 11, 1971 and August 10, 1973. On May 21, 1973, the United States was allowed to intervene in the suit on the issues of racial discrimination, and the court sua sponte ordered amicus curiae participation on the conditions of inmate confinement and treatment.

A bench trial on the merits was held in December 1973 before a Magistrate Judge acting as Special Master. In April 1975, the Special Master issued a report, finding problems with inmate safety (from both physical attacks and sexual abuses) due to overcrowding and improper supervision, medical care, maintenance, food service, racial segregation, religious freedom, mail censorship, and electrical and fire safety. In June 1975, the District Court (Judge E. Gordon West) adopted the Special Master’s report and entered an injunction designed to improve prison conditions and decentralize the Louisiana prison system. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on February 15, 1977 and remanded the case for a determination of appropriate inmate population limits and security staffing requirements. Williams v. Edwards, 547 F.2d 1206 (5th Cir. 1977).

On remand, the case moved into the remedial phase. In 1983, the District Court entered an order (1983 Order or Consent Decree), which approved a Department plan proposing staffing patterns and inmate population limits throughout the state.

In November 1986 and again in January 1988, the District Court extended the duration of the 1983 Order so that the Department could comply with its provisions. In October 1990, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for settlement, due to the fact that they needed more time to work on the mental health program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In June 1989, the court declared a State of Emergency and appointed an expert because the conditions were still bad, and the Department could not comply with the 1983 Order. On January 28, 1991, the district court certified the case a class action and in 1993, the District Court again issued an order extending the 1983 Order. and between 1992 and 1994, the District Court modified the 1983 Order several different times at the request of the Department. Between 1992 and 1994, the District Court also granted nine requests to partially terminate the supervision of the court over nine facilities under the 1983 Order.

In February 1995 and again in March 1995, the Court ordered the Department to identify (1) each facility that was used to house state inmates, (2) the number of beds available in the state prisons, and (3) whether any additional beds could be made available.

In May 1995, the District Court issued findings of fact which included: (1) State prisons were at or near capacity authorized by the 1983 Order; (2) less that 1000 vacancies existed in all local facilities; (3) a crisis existed with respect to housing the Department's inmates; (4) inmates were being released prematurely due to lack of jail space; and (5) there was no plan to construct additional bed space. After meeting with the parties and experts, in July 1995, the Court issued the "'95 Reinstatement Order," which vacated each of the nine modification orders to the 1983 Order, essentially bringing back those nine facilities into the supervision of the District Court. The Department appealed.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Jacques Loeb Wiener, Jr.) held that the original 1983 Order, which had been treated as a consent decree, had the full force and effect of a judicial resolution of the dispute. Additionally, the Fifth Circuit ordered that the District Court had properly retained jurisdiction of the matter, and that it did not abuse its discretion in issuing the 1995 Reinstatement Order. The Fifth Circuit also held that the District Court’s relief was not in conflict with the newly enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act because it was not fashioning any prospective relief. Williams v. Edwards, 87 F.3d 126 (5th Cir. 1996), rehearing en banc denied, 95 F.3d 56 (5th Cir. 1996).

On September 26, 1996, the Williams parties filed a Petition for Order Approving Settlement for Purpose of Terminating Consent Decrees, in which the parties had agreed to the "dismissal of all consent decrees" for all state, parish, and city facilities housing DOC inmates, except the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and specified juvenile detention facilities, effective April 1, 1997. Following a hearing, the District Court (Judge Frank J. Polozola) approved the settlement.

The plaintiffs in the case Hamilton v. Morial, [JC-LA-3] (Hamilton plaintiffs) sought intervention in the Williams case, to challenge the settlement and dismissal of population cap consent decrees. Intervention was denied on November 26, 1996.

Pursuant to the settlement, on April 1, 1997 Judge Polozola entered an order finally releasing all state facilities—with the exception of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the Louisiana Training Institute – Monroe, the Louisiana Training Institute – Bridge City, the Jetson Correctional Center for Youth, and the Tallulah Correctional Center for Youth—from further supervision and reporting requirements to the District Court and, in doing so, noted that it earlier had released all parish and local facilities from further supervision and reporting requirements. The Hamilton plaintiffs appealed, but the appeal was ultimately dismissed as untimely. Hamilton v. Williams, 147 F.3d 367 (5th Cir. 1998).

In November 1998, District Judge Polozola ordered the Williams consolidated with U.S. v. Louisiana Civ. No. 98-947-B-1 [JI-LA-1] (CRIPA lawsuit alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the Jetson, Bridge City, Swanson and Tallulah juvenile facilities) and Brian B. v. Stadler Civ. No. 98-886-B-M1 [JI-LA-6] (private class action challenging conditions at Tallulah). A Settlement Agreement was reached in the consolidated cases in 2000, followed by modified agreements in 2003 and 2004. On May 2, 2006, at the joint request of all parties, the District Court (Judge James J. Brady) dismissed all of the consolidated cases.

See U.S. v. Louisiana (JI-LA-1) for a more detailed summary of the procedural history of the case after the 1998 consolidation.

Summary Authors

Dan Dalton (2/23/2007)

Caitlin Kierum (3/18/2020)

Related Cases

In re Juvenile Justice Facilities, Middle District of Louisiana (1997)

Brian B. v. Stalder, Middle District of Louisiana (1998)

United States v. Louisiana, Middle District of Louisiana (1998)

A.A. v. Wackenhut, Middle District of Louisiana (2000)

R.B. v. Livers, Eastern District of Louisiana (2012)

In re Parish Prison [Jail] Populations, Middle District of Louisiana (1982)



Ainsworth, Robert Andrew Jr. (Louisiana)

Brady, James J. (Louisiana)

Davis, W. Eugene (Louisiana)

Garwood, William Lockhart (Texas)

Hill, James Clinkscales (Florida)

King, Carolyn Dineen (Texas)

Politz, Henry Anthony (Louisiana)

Polozola, Frank Joseph (Louisiana)

West, Elmer Gordon (Louisiana)

Wiener, Jacques Loeb Jr. (Louisiana)


Ainsworth, Robert Andrew Jr. (Louisiana)

Brady, James J. (Louisiana)

Davis, W. Eugene (Louisiana)

Garwood, William Lockhart (Texas)

Hill, James Clinkscales (Florida)

King, Carolyn Dineen (Texas)

Politz, Henry Anthony (Louisiana)

Polozola, Frank Joseph (Louisiana)

West, Elmer Gordon (Louisiana)

Wiener, Jacques Loeb Jr. (Louisiana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Behan, Kathleen A. (District of Columbia)

Biles, Blake A. (District of Columbia)

Bower, Karen A. (District of Columbia)

Boyd, Ralph F. Jr. (District of Columbia)

Celeste, Gabriella (Louisiana)

Cooper, Robert Howard (Louisiana)

Denlinger, June E. (Louisiana)

Dubos, Michael L. (Louisiana)

Dugas, David R. (Louisiana)

Fontana, Luke J. Jr. (Louisiana)

Frohboese, Robinsue (District of Columbia)

Goff, Addison Kennon III (Louisiana)

Gonzales, Douglas M. (Louisiana)

Hymel, L. J. Jr. (Louisiana)

Kahn, Ayesha (District of Columbia)

Kendall, Robert Jr. (Louisiana)

Lee, Bill Lann (California)

Morgan, David L. Jr. (Louisiana)

Nordyke, Keith B (Louisiana)

Pelletier, Angela M. (District of Columbia)

Prager, Lutz Alexander (District of Columbia)

Preston, Judith (Judy) C. (District of Columbia)

Reid, Herbert O. Sr. (District of Columbia)

Resetarits, Jeffrey (District of Columbia)

Rosenbaum, Steven H. (District of Columbia)

Utter, David J. (Louisiana)

Vanderhoof, David J.W. (District of Columbia)

Wendtland, Linda S. (District of Columbia)

Wolleson, P. Scott (Louisiana)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ardoin, J. Winston (Louisiana)

Baker, John Elliott (Louisiana)

Bardwell, Stanford O. Jr. (Louisiana)

Bowers, Patricia Nalley (Louisiana)

Cedars, Chester R. (Louisiana)

Curry, Richard A. (Louisiana)

Guste, William J. Jr. (Louisiana)

Halphen, Ann M. (Louisiana)

Hicks, M. Brent (Louisiana)

Ieyoub, Richard P. (Louisiana)

Jordan, Eddie J. Jr. (Louisiana)

Joseph, Cheney (Louisiana)

Kline, William Lester (Louisiana)

Koury, Constance A. (Louisiana)

La Clercq, Frederic Theodore (Louisiana)

Lambert, Amy Collier (Louisiana)

Lamonica, P. Raymond (Louisiana)

Lancaster, Michael E. (Louisiana)

Matthews, Freeman Rudolph (Louisiana)

Montgomery, J. Marvin (Louisiana)

Phelps, Donald T.W. (Louisiana)

Plauche, W. Evan (Louisiana)

Reiger, Shannan Sweeney (Louisiana)

Reynolds, William Bradford (District of Columbia)

Roy, A.J. Jr. (Louisiana)

Russell, Kevin K. (District of Columbia)

Simmons, Richard T. Jr. (Louisiana)

Skinner, Michael D. (Louisiana)

Spilman, Joseph L. III (Louisiana)

Thompson, Ronald (Louisiana)

Tooke, Margaret L. (Louisiana)

Tulley, Frederic R. (Louisiana)

Usry, Thomas Allen (Louisiana)

Walker, Annabelle Hoppe (Louisiana)

Other Attorney(s)

Goldschmidt, Iris (District of Columbia)

Landsberg, Brian K. (District of Columbia)

Silver, Jessica Dunsay (District of Columbia)


Friedman, Philip S. (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse


Docket [non-PACER] (beginning through 1989)

Williams v. Edwards

March 11, 1993 Docket

Docket [pre-PACER, December 1989 to 1993]

Williams v. Edwards

March 11, 1993 Docket

Court Docket

Williams v. Edwards

Jan. 21, 1998 Docket

Docket (PACER)

Williams v. Edwards

July 7, 2004 Docket

Special Master's Report

April 28, 1975 Magistrate Report/Recommendation

Judgment and Order

June 10, 1975 Order/Opinion


Williams v. Edwards

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

547 F.2d 1206

Feb. 15, 1977 Order/Opinion


495 F.Supp. 707

Aug. 4, 1980 Order/Opinion

Stipulation & Consent Decree

Nov. 19, 1983 Settlement Agreement

Memorandum on the Issue of Who Represents the State

1990 WL 265971

July 20, 1990 Order/Opinion


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Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Louisiana

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 26, 1971

Closing Date: May 2, 2006

Case Ongoing: No


Plaintiff Description:

Inmates challenging the constitutionality of their housing conditions at Louisiana facilities

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: Unknown

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted


Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola), State

Defendant Type(s):



Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

42 U.S.C. § 1981

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Free Exercise Clause

Freedom of speech/association

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion


Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:



Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 1975 - 2006

Content of Injunction:




Administrative segregation

Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students

Assault/abuse by staff

Classification / placement

Conditions of confinement

Disciplinary segregation

Fire safety

Food service / nutrition / hydration



Racial segregation

Religious programs / policies

Sanitation / living conditions

Sexual abuse by residents/inmates

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Totality of conditions


Crowding / caseload

Pre-PLRA Population Cap


Race discrimination

Medical/Mental Health:

Dental care

Medical care, general

Mental health care, general

Self-injurious behaviors

Suicide prevention

Type of Facility: