[News] After Katrina, Where Have All the Prisoners Gone?
News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 13 14:07:07 EDT 2005
Tuesday, September 13th, 2005
After Katrina, Where Have All the Prisoners Gone?
A makeshift prison has been set up in the Greyhound bus and train station
in downtown New Orleans. The nearby prison, was flooded after hurricane
Katrina. What happened to the prisoners there and in other parish prisons
in New Orleans? A writ of habeas corpus was recently filed for an
accounting of the prisoners. We speak Louisiana defense attorney Phyllis
Mann. [includes rush transcript]
A makeshift prison has been set up in the Greyhound bus and train station
in downtown New Orleans. It's being run by the Burl Cain - the warden of
Angola prison as well as prison guards from New York.
The nearby prison, the Orleans jail was flooded after the hurricane. What
happened to the prisoners there and in other parish prisons in New Orleans?
Yesterday, a writ of habeas corpus was filed in Louisiana for an accounting
of the prisoners.
* Phyllis Mann, defense attorney in Alexandria, LA.
AMY GOODMAN: One woman who has been working tirelessly since the hurricane
and flood is Phyllis Mann. She is a defense attorney in Alexandria,
Louisiana. She yesterday went to the Angola prison, where it's estimated
something like 500 women were brought to this men's prison after the
hurricane. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Phyllis Mann. Can you talk
about what happened in Angola?
PHYLLIS MANN: I and two other female attorneys went to interview -- we
interviewed 199 of the 499 women who are currently being housed at a male
maximum security prison at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, everyone
calls it Angola. And we spent the entire day in the dormitory where these
women are being housed. There have never been women housed at Angola before.
These women were moved to Angola from women's facilities in Orleans Parish
due to the flooding there. And among the women being held there I met with
a 49-year-old woman who was a citizen of Jamaica, who had been arrested on
August 16 because she overstayed her visa, but before her deportation could
occur, the hurricane came, and so now it has been almost a month, and she
would happily return to Jamaica. In fact, what she expressed to me today
was not only would she happily return, but she just doesn't have any future
plans to ever come back to America again in light of her experiences, that
she was housed in a building that they called Concetta, which houses women
in Orleans Parish and is part of the Orleans Parish system and was there
when the waters began to rise.
And she, along with all of these other women, initially were moved from the
first floor up to higher floors, and then as those flooded, they had to be
evacuated out, and they were taken by boat from the Orleans Parish prisons.
But many of them walked for hours through chest-high water, and some were
able to be boated out, and then they got to the Causeway Bridge where they
were left waiting for buses. And then from there, they were brought to
Angola. And these women are being housed in dormitories that hold 100 women.
They -- when they were in Orleans, they were several days without any food
or water. Ultimately, they had to -- they put water in trashcans when the
water stopped operating at the prison, and then they were subsequently told
don't drink the water from the trashcans now; we're afraid it's
contaminated. And these are women, by and large just like the woman from
Jamaica, who have -- it could be you or I.
I met with another woman who had failed to pay a fine. She was also
arrested on August 16, and because she failed to pay a fine, is sitting in
a maximum security prison. We don't know when we're going to be able to get
these women out of jail. There was another woman who was arrested for
sleeping by the ferry. She has a $600 bond, and she's been in jail since
August 3. But because the records for people who are arrested in Orleans
Parish are maintained by the Orleans Parish Sheriff, until those records
can be reconstructed, we can't get these women out of jail.
AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Mann, can you talk about the men and what happened in
the Orleans jail?
PHYLLIS MANN: Sure. Last week, I interviewed 200 men who had been moved to
Rapides Parish to the Sheriff's jail here from Orleans Parish. And two of
the men, in particular, told me a story that just was almost unbelievable
to me. These men were federal detainees, meaning that they had been
arrested on federal charges and were being held in the local jail. They had
originally been housed in O.P.P., which actually stands for Old Parish
Prison there in Orleans on the federal tier.
And as the water began rising, they were moved from that floor up to a
higher floor, and ultimately they were placed by the guards in the
gymnasium area in the facility, where they were locked in. Once the guards
placed them there, they did not see any guards again. Some of the men that
were on the same floor where they were, were not in this open gymnasium
area, they were in holding cells. And as the water began rising, it got
higher and higher. They had been there about a day-and-a-half with no food
or water, and they had not seen any guards.
And the water rose until it reached chest level. The men in the gymnasium
were able to break the windows out of the gymnasium, and they literally
swam out of that room to escape from the prison, but the men that were in
the holding cells could not get out. And the men that I spoke to that were
able to free themselves were very, very certain that the other men in those
holding cells have drowned.
These men that were able to free themselves literally swam out of the
building and then found a guard to turn themselves in to. And they were
then placed on buses and brought from Orleans to Hunt Correctional Center
where they were given blankets, and they basically slept on the hillside
for another day or into the following day, when they were placed on buses
and brought here to Rapides Parish.
And again, one of the many problems that we're facing and I don't know we
have a solution to is until we can reconstruct the records of the Orleans
Parish Sheriff's Department, we will not even know who was housed in the
various Orleans Parish facilities. We're not going to know how many inmates
did not make it out of those facilities.
AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Mann, what were these men charged with that you
PHYLLIS MANN: The two men -- these men that told me the story were both
charged with federal offenses. They were federal drug offenses. But as they
were being relocated to higher floors in Orleans Parish Prison, not
everyone who was relocated there was charged with a serious crime. Many of
these men, just like the women that I talked to today, were arrested on
very minor charges. They may have been arrested for public drunk or
possession of drug paraphernalia, which could be something as minor as a
roach clip. Some of them were charged with trespass. Some of them were on
probation and had missed a court date or had missed a drug court hearing
and were in jail for seven days to sort of get their attention. Well, my
lord, we have gotten their attention now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what's going to happen to them?
PHYLLIS MANN: Ultimately, we'll get this all sorted out. There are lawyers
all over the state, criminal defense lawyers, who are going to all of these
facilities. There are 35 facilities that we are aware of all over the State
of Louisiana, where over 8,500 people from Orleans jails were evacuated.
And we're literally having to go in and meet with these people one by one
to figure out when they got arrested, why they were in jail, whether they
have been convicted or whether they were waiting for trial, whether it was
a misdemeanor or a felony.
I understand that the computers from the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's
Office were retrieved from Orleans on Friday, and their information
technology people have been working to try to get as much information off
of those computers as possible. And eventually what will happen is they're
going to start matching the information they can recover from those
computers to the information that we have been getting by going in and
interviewing these people one by one, so that we can figure out where
they're supposed to be. I would say a good half of them are not supposed to
be in jail at all. They have served whatever sentence they had received and
should be released. But until we can figure that out, they're sitting there.
AMY GOODMAN: Some haven't even been sentenced at all?
PHYLLIS MANN: Many of them not sentenced at all. Many of them not even
convicted. They are people who, like all American citizens, when they're
arrested are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and they have not even
had an opportunity to go to court.
AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Mann, how do the prisoners reach their families?
PHYLLIS MANN: We have a hotline number that has been established through
Hunt Correctional Center. Families can call in to these numbers. It's area
code 225 and the two numbers are 342-5935 or 342-3998. If they had a loved
one who was in jail in any of the affected parishes, St. Bernard, Orleans,
Jefferson or Plackman, they can call into those numbers and leave a message
about where they currently are, where their loved one can call to reach
them, and they can also find out from Hunt Correctional Center where their
loved one is now being housed. We do finally have a complete list of where
everyone was evacuated to, so families can call in for that information.
AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Mann, thank you very much for being with us. Phyllis
Mann, a defense attorney in Alexandria, Louisiana. A writ of habeas corpus
has been filed to get accounting of the prisoners, it is believed something
like 8,000 of them. Where are they? Have they been moved? Did they survive?
What has happened?
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