The report documents the experiences of thousands of men, women and children who were abandoned at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in the days after the storm. “The prisoners inside the Orleans Parish Prison suffered some of the worst horrors of Hurricane Katrina,” said Eric Balaban, a staff attorney for the National Prison Project. “Because society views prisoners as second-class citizens, their stories have largely gone unnoticed and therefore untold.”
…The ACLU report describes a history of neglect at Orleans Parish Prison, one of the most dangerous and mismanaged jails in the country. This culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm. As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests.
…Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.
Among the people profiled in the ACLU report are:
– Ivy Gisclair, who was being held at OPP for $700 in traffic violations (mostly parking tickets) and had never been in any serious trouble with the law. After days in OPP following the storm, Ivy was transferred to Hunt, where he witnessed stabbings, rapes and countless fights. Ivy was finally transferred to Bossier Parish Maximum Security Prison. His release date came and went. When he asked a guard about it, he was pepper sprayed, repeatedly shocked with a Taser, beaten by multiple guards, and put in solitary confinement with no clothes. Ivy was released in an orange prison jumpsuit at a gas station by the side of the road, three weeks after his scheduled release date. It was the day of Hurricane Rita.
– Renard Reed, a guard at OPP’s psychiatric ward who reported to work before the hurricane out of a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility. Like many other guards, Renard was locked in during his shift to prevent desertion, and was then ordered to go to the roof with a shotgun and shoot anyone trying to leave one of the flooded buildings. He was still stranded at the prison long after the prisoners were evacuated.
– Ashley George, a 13-year-old girl housed in OPP’s Youth Center, who was moved to an area adjacent to an adult male holding area where the men watched her use the toilet. As the building began to flood, Ashley spent days in water up to her neck. Adult prisoners rescued Ashley and the other children from the waters. After being taken to the bridge for evacuation, Ashley was lucky enough to be given a bag of potato chips and water. She reports again being forced to relieve herself publicly and that pregnant girls received no assistance or treatment.
All these years later it still sickens me to think of how few people faced any consequences for the inhumane and dangerous treatment of others during the storm.