Dec. 9, 2005 – Concerned that the Orleans Parish Sheriff is prematurely repopulating the prison there, the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday sent letters to every member of the New Orleans City Council imploring them to examine the facility. The ACLU says that about 600 people are now locked in the Orleans Parish Prison without a proper emergency evacuation plan or fire-safety officer.
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"We are asking council members to fulfill their obligations by holding a public hearing on the re-opening of the Orleans Parish Prison and to do so before any more prisoners are returned there," Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook said. "One of the first issues to address at the hearing should be whether an adequate evacuation plan exists for OPP."
Most of the parishâ€™s prison and other criminal justice facilities remain damaged, some so much so that they are unusable, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman said in a November letter to City Council members. The communiquÃ© cited hundreds of thousands in food and medical supplies lost to the storm in addition to around $2 million in inmate clothing and bedding.
"Out of twelve major facilities, only two are operational at [this] time," Gusman wrote. "Even those two buildings that are operational will still require additional repairs to return to pre-Katrina levels."
Despite the damaged buildings, lost supplies and the cityâ€™s nearly non-existent revenues, Gusman opted to begin housing inmates on the very same grounds where hundreds of prisoners were allegedly abandoned by prison guards in the wake of Katrina. The problem is compounded by the prisonâ€™s admission that its fire-safety officer has not been seen or heard from since the storm hit.
In addition, the OPP has failed to maintain a proper prison evacuation plan at least since the storm hit.
As detailed by The NewStandard previously, over 600 prisoners were left to the rising flood waters in the days after Katrina battered the Gulf coast. The prisoners were not fully evacuated for three days, and hundreds remain unaccounted for.
Gusman reopened OPP a month ago and last month failed to produce evacuation and fire-safety plans for a federal judge, the ACLU noted in its letter to the City Council. The group called for a public hearing over the reopened building and implored Council members not to permit any others to be reopened prior to a proper vetting of the safety plans.