ACLU Calls on New Orleans City Council to Hold Hearing on Plans to Re-Open Prison

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
October 21, 2005 12:00 am

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Sheriff Must Provide Answers on Conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, ACLU Says

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today sent letters to New Orleans City Council members urging them to immediately schedule a hearing on plans to re-open the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), which the ACLU says plunged into chaos after Hurricane Katrina hit.

“”We have serious concerns about whether this facility will be safe for occupancy and adequately staffed with deputies and medical personnel by next week,”” wrote ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Joe Cook in the letters. “”It is imperative that the City Council gather information to ensure that the prisoners now being returned to OPP can be safely and humanely housed at the jail.””

The ACLU sent the letters after Sheriff Marlin Gusman announced plans to re-open at least one OPP building, the House of Detention, within the next week. The ACLU said that the City Council, which exercises control over the OPP compound, bears some responsibility for the wellbeing of prisoners housed there. The letters were signed by Cook and endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild.

The ACLU wants the City Council to schedule an immediate hearing, at which Sheriff Gusman should be asked to provide answers to the following questions:

  • Which OPP buildings will be re-opened and when?
  • Have these buildings been inspected by the proper officials and the fire marshal and certified as safe for occupancy?
  • How many deputies will be available to staff these buildings?
  • Who will be providing on-site medical services?
  • Who will provide emergency medical services for returned OPP
    prisoners given that both Charity and University Hospitals are closed?
  • Is there an evacuation plan for these buildings? Has it been revised since Hurricane Katrina?

The ACLU said its request is prompted by disturbing facts that have surfaced in recent weeks about the destruction at the jail following Hurricane Katrina and the fate of many OPP prisoners who were not promptly evacuated. As described by corrections deputies, OPP staff and prisoners, and as reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the jail plunged into chaos after Katrina hit. The generators failed on August 29, leaving the buildings without power, light, circulated air or working toilets. The next day, the jail ran out of food. Deputies walked off their posts. Prisoners broke windows to get fresh air, and set fires to signal to those outside the jail that they were trapped inside. The dwindling security force struggled to maintain order, as prisoners broke open cell and security doors. Many OPP prisoners were not evacuated until September 1, four days after the flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

The ACLU of Louisiana joined the ACLU National Prison Project in filing official requests last month to determine if prisoners were abandoned to die during and after Hurricane Katrina, and for further details on the prisoner evacuation plan. The ACLU National Prison Project has also asked a federal court for access to the prisoners at OPP, whom the ACLU represents in a longstanding class-action lawsuit over prison conditions.

A copy of one of the ACLU’s letter to City Council members is online at:

More information on the ACLU’s lawsuit and information requests is online at:

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