May 11, 2006 – Details of horrific conditions endured by boys and girls held in a New Orleans jail during and after Hurricane Katrina are chronicled in a shocking new report by a group that advocates for criminalized youth.
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- Investigation Details Abuse, Endangerment of Prisoners After Katrina (Nov 18, 2005)
- ACLU Questions Soundness of Orleans Prison as Inmates Return (Dec 9, 2005)
The report by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana blames longstanding "institutional failures" in the Orleans Parish juvenile-justice system for what incarcerated teenage hurricane survivors describe in interview after interview as intolerably hazardous circumstances of their detention.
The report notes that authorities ignored a warning from the National Weather Service that Katrina would cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards," choosing to hold all of the nearly 150 children jailed at the time in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) adult correctional facility in central New Orleans. Many if not most of the juvenile detainees were being held pending trial and had not been convicted of any crime.
Like their adult counterparts, child detainees went up to five days without food, water or remotely sanitary conditions while trapped inside the OPP complex, and many report nearly drowning in their cells, before their eventual self-evacuation from the facility. The report says that no one interviewed was aware of any medical care offered or provided by guards or other authorities, and that guards ignored major injuries, pregnancies, chronic health problems and medicine shortages.
Witnesses also recounted numerous separate beatings â€“ some of them severe â€“ at the hands of guards, who also allegedly held guns to kidsâ€™ heads on multiple occasions. Interviewees also reported numerous beatings of adult prisoners, some involving vicious assaults by attack dogs
Insisting that the Hurricane Katrina merely exposed deep-rooted problems that predated the storm, the report says those problems "were neither created nor washed away by Katrinaâ€™s impact." It goes on to suggest a drastic, systemic overhaul of the ways Louisiana treats youthful convicts and defendants. Stopping well short of doing away with the parishâ€™s juvenile-detention system, the JJPL urges officials to re-envision the juvenile detention "as a process rather than a place," favoring a community-based approach over incarceration.