Family Members and Prisoners Share Nightmare After Katrina: Fact Sheet Produced
Broad Coalition Calls for Independent Investigation of OPP Evacuation, Amnesty and Real Public Safety Models for New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – “They won’t let my daughter out of prison, even though she was supposed to have been released weeks ago,” says Althea Francois. “This is a long time for us to be separated – I’m worried sick about her. And I know there are thousands of families in the same situation.”
Stories like Ms. Francois’ have galvanized a broad coalition of human rights organizations, community groups, Orleans Parish prisoners, and their families, who will gathered on Wednesday in front of the now infamous Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) to tell their stories. The gathering took place during The Critical Resistance Delegation on Safety and the Status of Prisoners, which is calling attention to charges that prisoners were left to drown in locked jail cells, hundreds more were arrested for the ‘crime’ of trying to feed themselves after Katrina, and thousands have had their cases thrown into legal limbo post-Katrina.
Participants demanded an independent investigation into the evacuation of OPP and amnesty for those arrested for trying to feed and clothe themselves post-Katrina, while calling for real public safety in a rebuilt New Orleans. “Rising from the devastation of Katrina, we have an amazing opportunity to rebuild a truly new and genuine system of public safety for New Orleans,” said Xochitl Bervera, Co-Director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.
Pointing to additional recent accounts of police beatings, “Katrina’s aftermath reflects the way we as a nation increasingly deal with social ills: police and imprison primarily poor Black communities for ‘crimes’ that are reflections of poverty and desperation,” said Tamika Middleton, New Orleans-based Organizer with Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization whose mission is to end society’s use of imprisonment as an answer to social problems. Louisiana has had the highest rate of incarceration of any state in the U.S. Blacks are grossly over-represented, making up 72% of the state prison population, while only representing 35% of the total population “This emphasis on ‘law and order’ has historically had a devastating impact on the people of New Orleans,” Middleton continued. “Locking people up in this crisis is cruel mismanagement of city resources and counters the outpouring of the world’s support and concern for all survivors of Hurricane Katrina.”
Critical Resistance South has prepared the following Katrina Fact Sheet. WHAT
HAPPENED TO PRISONERS IN FLOODED LOUISIANA PRISONS?:
* Around 8,500 Louisiana prisoners were moved from flooded prisons and jails to 35 different Louisiana prisons and jails. A list of those prisons and jails can be found at: http://www.lidab.com/doc_lists.htm
* Federal prisoners were moved to a Federal prison in Florida. We are working on obtaining more information. There is still not a full accounting of what happened in the evacuation of Old Parish Prison in New Orleans (OPP), although troubling reports have been received. According to a September 22nd Human Rights Watch report, 517 prisoners who were being held at OPP remain unaccounted for. Prisoners who had been housed in Templeman III, a building in the OPP complex, told HRW workers that they were left without food or water in rising flood conditions, with water as high as their necks. While some were able to save themselves, they said other prisoners below them, left locked in their cells, were crying and asking for help.
* Another, earlier story explained that guards moved people up floors & then into a gym, leaving them for two days without food and water. Most were able to break windows and escape rising water, swimming out of the jail. There are reports, thus far unconfirmed, that people who were locked in holding cells were left to drown. According to these reports, those who escaped from the flooding prison turned themselves in and were eventually transferred.
* Reports about prisoners who were evacuated indicate that they were held at gunpoint on New Orleans overpasses awaiting transport for hours, even days.
* In some areas affected by the storm, prisoners are being used as a labor force, providing relief services and clearing debris.
* Prisoners reported being refused the right to call home to check on loved ones. HOW TO FIND AND CONTACT PRISONERS MOVED AFTER KATRINA:
* Local and state prisoners who were evacuated can be located by name on a list being assembled by a coalition of attorney’s groups in Louisiana. Attorneys are currently attempting to contact and interview every adult prisoner moved in the wake of Katrina, so this list will be updated. That list can be found at:http://www.lidab.com/doc_lists.htm and updates and further links can be found at: http://www.lacdlkatrinarelief.blogspot.com/
* The Department of Corrections (DOC) established hotlines to call for locating family members moved from Orleans’ area prisons and jails. They are: 225-342-3998 and 225-342-5935 and are supposed to be staffed from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Hunt Correctional Center, where many male prisoners from OPP may have been transferred, also set up a hotline: 225-352-5924. DOC staff will only tell family members where their loved one is located, and no other information (release date, case status, etc.). Family members should be allowed to give a message to their loved one. * Youth who were in Bridge City Center for Youth (BCCY) were moved to Jetson Correctional Center and can be located by calling Jetson at 225-778-9000; ask for John Anderson, Michael Gaines, Ricky Wright, or Linda London. Demand the child be brought to the phone to speak immediately with their family member.
* Young people held at the Youth Study Center, Plaquemine Detention Center, St. Bernard Center, Terrebonne Detention Center, and Riverde Detention Center have been routed to placements in other parts of the state. Family members should call Perla at (225) 287-7988 or (225) 328-3607 (cell) or Stacey at (225)287-7955 to find out where their child is located. Ask Perla for a phone number, call, and demand that they be permitted to speak to their child immediately on the phone.
* As of Friday, September 17th, a coalition of attorneys in Louisiana has been able to secure releases for nearly 500 prisoners held beyond their sentences – mostly people on parole violations and “municipal” charges. These people are being released with a delay, but should be cycling out in 24-72 hours. The attorneys state that this should be the beginning of a process of getting people out who were “overdue for release.” See http://www.lacdlkatrinarelief.blogspot.com/ for more information. CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR SURVIVORS HEADED TO SHELTERS:
* Some American Red Cross shelters accepting evacuees from the areas affected by Katrina are refusing entry without a criminal background check. This has been confirmed in at least three states, and according to one Red Cross spokesperson, the practice is “supported” by the organization.
* The FBI opened its criminal database to a wider number of people, providing access to that information through local police and sheriffs departments. Some local departments are processing criminal background checks of Katrina survivors, people volunteering to do relief work, and people volunteering housing free of charge to requestors and, based on that record, judging if the person is “suitable” or “unsuitable” as a volunteer, host, or new resident or guest.
* According to National Public Radio and other sources, many of the offers of housing require that the survivor have no criminal record or record of eviction. THE USE OF PRISONS AND POLICE POST KATRINA:
* A makeshift jail has been established in the New Orleans Greyhound station. Angola Prison Warden Burl Cain, brought in to run the jail, has declared that the construction of this makeshift jail is a “real start” to rebuilding New Orleans.
* An unknown number of people have arrested for offenses related to feeding and clothing themselves post Katrina. This fact sheet was compiled by Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization seeking to end the use of imprisonment as an answer to social, political and economic problems. Critical Resistance’s Southern Regional Office, located in New Orleans’ mid-city neighborhood, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Critical Resistance is working with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children and Communities United to assist prisoners and their loved ones attempting to reunite after Katrina. For more information or to support this and other work, please call CR at 510-444-0484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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