Of the many people who did not or could not evacuate New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina, prisoners were especially helpless. The American Civil Liberties Union gathered testimony from 400 of the 7,000 people locked up in New Orleans Prison at the time of Katrina, including approximately 100 juveniles.
Many reported being left in their cells while the water rose above their heads; being beaten and sprayed with mace once evacuated (to state maximum security prisons); and left on Interstate-10 in the hot sun for days without food or water. An entire building with about 600 prisoners was left behind in the evacuation process and weren’t rescued for days (source).
Most of the 7,000 prisoners had been charged with misdemeanor offenses and would have been released within a few weeks, even if convicted. But Governor Blanco effectively suspended habeas corpus (due process; right to a speedy trial) for six months, so some were incarcerated for over a year – doing “Katrina time.” “The court system shut its doors, the police department fell into disarray, few prosecutors remained, and a handful of public defenders could not meet with, much less represent, the thousands detained” (source). Prison officials deny that anyone died in the crisis, despite several reports of deaths from both police officers and prisoners (source).
The Orleans Parish Prison continues to have civil rights concerns. In 2009, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department found that conditions at OPP violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The report found that prisoners experience violence from other prisoners, excessive force from guards, are not provided adequate medical services, and live in unsanitary conditions with pests.
This hour-long BBC video documents their experiences:
Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s blog.Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.
Stephanie — August 28, 2010
My SO's dad worked for the state during that time. He said that he's heard prison guards bragging about shooting their "problem" inmates from the outside of their cells. Yes, shooting caged men! They'd claim that the dead inmates died in a "riot".
My SO's dad said alot of prisoners just disappeared. As many prison records were destroyed, guards and other prisoners suddenly had the ability to "erase" the ones they didn't like.
I want to scream "hearsay!" as loud as I can, but I've lived here to long to really believe that. If people in power can, they usually do.
Kat — August 29, 2010
This makes me very very sad.
[links] Link salad don’t want to sail with this ship of fools no more | jlake.com — August 27, 2011
[...] The Fate of Prisoners During Hurricane Katrina [...]
New York Prisoners Left in the Path of Hurricane Irene | Caroline Heldman's Blog — August 27, 2011
[...] in flooded cells and later left on a bridge for days without food and water, as detailed in this post. Officials in New York have made the same decision with Hurricane [...]
Anonymous — August 28, 2011
While Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it was not a natural disaster for the city of New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers' shoddy levees failed to hold up to a Category 3 storm. Most of the death and destruction in New Orleans was caused by the levee failures as well as the slow response by the Federal Government.
Just to cover some other misinformation regarding Katrina as some still are unaware of the truth:
While we in the Superdome believed the rumors of murders and rapes, in reality these could not be verified. There was a suicide, a couple of drug overdoses and about 5 deaths of medical patients.
It wasn't only the prisoners who were trapped. The Airport, Amtrak, and Greyhound shut down PRIOR to the evacuation of New Orleans. Many of us could not get out of town and ended up at the Superdome or Convention Center.
The approximate 85% of residents who did evacuate is a higher level than most evacuations of its kind in the U.S.
Those infamous flooded busses would have only evacuated about 5000 people as only half were operable and who was going to drive them as most of the locals had been forced to evacuate.
Days after Katrina, Bush said "no one could have foreseen the breach of the levees". 6 months later a video and transcripts surfaced showing Bush being forewarned by the Head of the Nat. Hurricane Center, Gov. Blanco, "Brownie" and Nagin that this was going to be a devastating storm and quite likely the levees would be breached. Bush said "everything would be taken care of". Thus he was caught in two lies.
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"
caligirl — August 26, 2012
This blows me away
Kateorud — January 20, 2013
OOh. Wow.i was doing research on the word (fate)this puppy poped up..okay.. I really don't care about New Orleans.nor prisoners. The reason is.you live in a city 3feet under sea water..your dead has to be elevated. Not buried. Its natural.next!!!!!
Don’t Get Caught with a Warrant During a Storm « Bloom Blog — October 4, 2013
[...] Original Article: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/08/27/imprisoned-disaster-political-will-and-hurricane-kat... [...]
Bangthebottom — December 21, 2013
It happened before it will happen again.... If you live below the sea level, it's bound to happen. That's like smoking your whole life and being surprised when you get cancer...
Anonymous — December 5, 2018
no one really care if u care about new Orleans its also a place that called home and many lives matter so u can go fuck yourself