[News] After Katrina, Where Have All the Prisoners Gone?

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 13 14:07:07 EDT 2005

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005
After Katrina, Where Have All the Prisoners Gone?
Democracy Now

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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