By Ben Wallace | LSU Student
Manship News Service
Outside of prison, a jury consists of six to 12, hopefully impartial, peers. Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) at Angola, it doesn't work that way .
The disciplinary board court hears cases involving a violation of one of 30 inner prison rules, ranging from contraband possession to sexual assault.
"We are the judge and jury in these cases," said John Joseph, a classification program manager at Angola and one of two judge/jurors sitting at the table facing the inmate during sessions at the penitentiary's main prison complex.
The East Yard Cellblock B court is a cinder-brick room painted off-white. Two overhead fluorescent lights dimly illuminate the 96-square-foot cement box. Other than the setting and ambiance, adjudication sessions proceed as they would in at regular trial.
Inmates step into the courtroom, are read their rights and offered a plea bargain. "Most inmates take the plea bargain because they know what's in their records," said Willard Gauthier Jr., the classification officer serving as juror No. 2. He said previous prison behavior looms as the largest factor in determining the type and degree of punishment.
Inmates are offered offender counsel substitute representation, which they sometimes refuse by accident. Depending on how serious the violation, inmates may receive punishments ranging from loss of canteen (prison general store) privileges for several weeks to Camp J relocation for notorious rule breakers.
Joseph believes he can size up a man right when he walks through the door. "If a guy walks in saying, 'yes sir' and 'no sir,' he probably just made a mistake."