Law Forum : Katrina.Please Share

LindaChavis

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Feb 11, 2007
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Columbus, Ohio
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A Justice System Decimated by Katrina

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It's a somber day, marking the worst natural disaster in U.S. history and the day that the terrible racial and economic inequalities in our society became crystal clear throughout the world. My fellow editors at change.org have moving and important posts today on Katrina and housing, poverty and climate change. I want to focus on a much-overlooked victim of Katrina: New Orleans' justice system.

As the storm approached, one of the many fatal mistakes made by city officials was the choice not to evacuate inmates at Orleans Parish Prison. Hundreds of people were stuck behind bars as the deadly storm arrived. As the water level rose, guards panicked and backup plans failed. Eventually prisoners were evacuated by boat and left for as many as three days on an overpass, becoming the subject of famous photos like the one above. The one-hour BBC documentary "Prisoners of Katrina" chronicles the tragic mishandling of these prisoners, and continues through the complete collapse of the system after the storm. For a sobering look at an under-reported injustice caused by the storm, watch the complete film online here.

The stories from the film, and from people who worked in the city's justice system before and after the storm - are maddening.

My colleagues at the Innocence Project New Orleans shifted their focus in the days after the storm from their important work overturning wrongful convictions to assisting with damage control. They found thousands of prisoners whose records had been destroyed, who had been transferred between jails and were now in a state of permanent limbo, and they interviewed and documented the cases of hundreds of people. Some wouldn't see a judge for a year after the storm, their paperwork and evidence lost and the system grappling with how to handle them.

The public defense system in New Orleans was decimated by the storm, as well. Public defenders in Louisiana get the majority of their funding from local traffic tickets. After Katrina, there were few functioning roads and the police had better things to do than issue traffic tickets. Four of five public defenders in the city left. Those remaining were crushed under unmanageable caseloads.

But possibly the most invisible and devastating loss of the storm was the evidence. Water filled the evidence storage room at the New Orleans courthouse and evidence from countless cases was destroyed. Prisoners who were seeking before the storm to prove their innocence through DNA testing, or to retest drugs or guns used against them, lost that chance. Evidence that could have been used to convict violent criminals of crimes was also lost, throwing state cases into jeopardy.

There's hope, however. The Jamestown Project, an innovative and progressive public policy organization, is focused on helping New Orleans build a 21st century criminal justice system from the wreckage of the storm. Learn more and support the Jamestown Project here.
 

Putney Swope

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Jun 27, 2009
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“The Deadly Choices at Memorial”–Investigation of New Orleans Hospital Tells Story of How Medical Staff Euthanized Patients in Katrina Aftermath
On the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a major investigation reveals harrowing new details of one of the many human tragedies that occurred in the aftermath of the storm. Forty-five patients at the New Orleans Memorial Medical Center died in the days after Katrina’s floodwater knocked out the power in the hospital. A 13,000-word article titled “The Deadly Choices at Memorial” tells the full story of what really happened to some of those patients. It’s the cover story of the New York Times Sunday Magazine this weekend and the product of a two-and-a-half-year investigation. We speak with reporter Sheri Fink of ProPublica. [includes rush transcript]

http://www.democracynow.org/2009/8/31/the_deadly_choices_at_memorial_investigation
 

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