Broken Promises: Two Years After Katrina - Executive Summary

August 20, 2007

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, devastating the homes and lives of millions of people. Images seen around the world reflected the reality of what was happening on the ground, as the storm and its aftermath revealed deep racial inequalities that have long existed in the region. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have now returned to their homes, hoping to rebuild their communities and resume their lives, while many others continue to live in the Katrina Diaspora. Their experiences, detailed in this report, show that the region's infrastructure is not the only thing that needs mending. The ACLU, our nation's largest government watchdog and defender of civil rights, has been inundated with reports of racial injustice and human rights violations that have taken place in Louisiana and Mississippi since the storm. These complaints have come from families, business owners, evacuees, and prisoners who have suffered abuse in the storm's aftermath. This report details the increase in police abuse, racial profiling, housing discrimination, and other civil liberties violations that have been brought to the attention of the ACLU, and the ACLU's response to them.

One area of particular concern to the ACLU is the situation in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), the New Orleans jail. In August 2006, the ACLU and several local and national partner organizations released Abandoned & Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina. Abandoned & Abused tells the story of what happened at OPP before, during, and after the storm in the words of prisoners, staff, and deputies who were present. The report exposes OPP's dark history of neglect and abuse, the lack of planning that preceded Hurricane Katrina, and the chaos that ensued throughout the New Orleans criminal justice system in the year following the storm.

With Broken Promises: Two Years After Katrina, the ACLU brings Abandoned & Abused into the present. Another year has passed, and OPP remains dangerously ill prepared to handle a future emergency. OPP's House of Detention and Central Lock-Up are both overcrowded and understaffed, leading to unsafe and unsanitary conditions, the outbreak of infectious diseases, and widespread violence. Notwithstanding serious deficiencies in the provision of mental health care at OPP, the absence of community mental health services has left the jail as the city's largest provider of psychiatric services. Although New Orleans has made vast improvements in its indigent defense system, those changes are extremely fragile and depend upon increased and reliable funding.

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