NEW ORLEANS — Weeks before the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office for mishandling its response to the hurricane and inmate evacuations at Orleans Parish Prison.
The report, which was created after an 11-month investigation by attorneys and local and national activists, is based on 1,300 written accounts from questionnaires sent to prisoners, interviews with hundreds of family members and OPP staff, and court documents, according to the ACLU.
The report states that Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman moved too quickly to reopen the jail, which was back online on Oct. 17, less than 30 days after floodwaters receded.
“Some prisoners have been returned to a reopened OPP, which is now overcrowded and dangerous, full of post-Katrina hazards that Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman failed to repair in his haste to repopulate the jail,” the report states.
The report also makes several recommendations, including:
• Design and implement a coordinated emergency plan to ensure that all prisons and jails are capable of quickly and safely evacuating before the next disaster strikes.
• Downsize the jail by ending the practice of holding state and federal prisoners.
• Implement reforms to decrease the number of pre-trial detainees held at OPP.
• Convene a blue ribbon commission to develop and implement a full set of recommendations for detention reform.
Gusman has claimed repeatedly that evacuations at the facility were executed safely without any deaths or major injuries. He says any media reports that stated otherwise were based on rumors or information that was not accurate.
“Everyone got out safely,” Gusman told Correctional News earlier this year (See the May/June 2006 article ). “Those were rumors and it’s unfortunate that the media reported them based upon stories and didn’t verify information with either my office or a third party, such as the Department of Corrections.”