[Karen Shain went to New Orleans and worked with others assisting Common Grounds, a grassroots organization there.]
As the drama of Katrina and its aftermath exploded across the news in September and October, one area of the crisis was kept relatively quiet. What happened to people in prisons and jails during the flooding of New Orleans and other areas across the south?
There were rumors that prisoners were drowning and left for dead across the region. We heard that some women were sent to Angola Prison in Louisiana (one of the most notorious men?s prisons in the country). Hard news was hard to come by. This is what we know (thanks to the Critical Resistance web site for this information):
* Around 8,500 Louisiana prisoners were moved from flooded prisons and jails to 35 different Louisiana prisons and jails
* Federal prisoners were moved to a Federal prison in Florida. There is still not a full accounting of what happened in the evacuation of Old Parish Prison in New Orleans (OPP), although troubling reports have been received. According to a September 22nd Human Rights Watch report, 517 prisoners who were being held at OPP remain unaccounted for. Prisoners told HRW workers that they were left without food or water in rising flood conditions, with water as high as their necks. While some were able to save themselves, they said other prisoners below them, left locked in their cells, were crying and asking for help.
* Another, earlier story explained that guards moved people up floors & then into a gym, leaving them for two days without food and water. Most were able to break windows and escape rising water, swimming out of the jail. There are reports, thus far unconfirmed, that people who were locked in holding cells were left to drown. According to these reports, those who escaped from the flooding prison turned themselves in and were eventually transferred.
* Reports about prisoners who were evacuated indicate that they were held at gunpoint on New Orleans overpasses awaiting transport for hours, even days.
* In some areas affected by the storm, prisoners are being used as a labor force, providing relief services and clearing debris.
* Prisoners reported being refused the right to call home to check on loved ones.
In addition, hundreds of people were arrested for survival crimes in the days after the flood?trying to take care of themselves and their families. CCWP joins Critical Resistance and other community activists in the New Orleans area in calling for complete amnesty for everyone charged with trying to take care of themselves, their family and communities?and for those who were already in the system, whose cases are affected by Katrina.
For more information, check out the Critical Resistance website: www.criticalresistance.org