NEW ORLEANS, LA - A report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the more than 6,000 prisoners held at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) during Katrina were trapped in flooded cells, some with contaminated water up to their chests, no food or water and little ventilation. The report, entitled "Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina," includes interviews with inmates, lawyers, and OPP staff. It exposes abuse and abandonment by public officials entrusted to take care of those in custody. The consequences of the chaos at OPP included reports of pregnant women miscarrying, ill prisoners going without medical treatment, and prisoners subject to violent and degrading behavior from those charged with ensuring their safety.
"The horrors of the OPP evacuation reveal deeply rooted flaws in the system, including the over-incarceration of people for non-violent offenses such as traffic fines, spitting on the sidewalk and public drunkenness," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "With one of the highest crime and lock-up rates in the country, Orleans Parish fails miserably on the public safety front. Crime prevention through strengthening and supporting family stability and creating jobs through targeted economic development works six to eight times better than prison after the fact."
The accounts that emerged from OPP tell a consistent story of a broken prison system with overcrowding and uncivilized conditions of confinement. Many of those locked up were pre-trial detainees not convicted of any crime and those locked up for economic reasons, such as the inability to pay a fine.
The ACLU yesterday mailed copies of the report to policymakers including the Sheriff, the City Council, the Department of Corrections, the Mayor and the Governor. The letter to these policy makers requests that they consider the report and its platform for change. The report connects these evacuation disasters to the history of systemic problems in OPP that existed long before Katrina, and offers solutions to repair the flawed criminal justice policies.
"The evidence that this report provides of what transpired in Orleans Parish Prison during the time period of Hurricane Katrina highlights the critical need to ensure that such tragedy never occurs again," said Katie Schwartzmann, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana. "It is now up to the city of New Orleans and the Sheriff's Department to implement the type of overhaul that will truly ensure such a new direction."
For a copy of the report, "Abandoned and Abused," click here
For a map of the OPP complex and surrounding area, click here
To see a copy of the letter sent to selected public officials, click here