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commentary on pregnancy and drug use, from Women's Enews

Maryland criminal justice reform page, including report on treatment and imprisonment, from the Justice Policy Institute

historic anti-drug address of Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Cultural Baggage for 09/15/06, including Judge Arthur L. Burnett & Vincent Hayden of the National African American Drug Policy Coalition and Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement against Prohibition

New JPI Report on Drug Treatment and Incarceration in Maryland

JPI is please to announce the release of our latest policy report, "Progress and challenges: An analysis of drug treatment and imprisonment in Maryland from 2000-2005." The report, authored by Kevin Pranis, shows that while many Maryland jurisdictions are making progress towards the goal of providing "treatment, not incarceration" for nonviolent substance abusers, the state's investments in treatment have not kept pace with demand, and the state spends far more to imprison people convicted of drug offenses than it spends to treat drug involved people through the criminal justice system. The report was covered in The Washington Post, The Associated Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Carol County Times, The Maryland Daily Record, and other papers and electronic media across the state, and in Washington, DC. This new report, and five monographs we have written about state sentencing policy, along with recent news articles on Maryland sentencing and systems reform are featured on a new Maryland page of our website, which can be found at Check back with us periodically, as JPI begins to build our website as a clearinghouse on Maryland drug sentencing and system reforms issues throughout the coming year.
United States

Marijuana: Texas Gubernatorial Candidate Kinky Friedman Says Legalize It

Independent Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman said Wednesday he favors legalizing marijuana. In an interview with the Associated Press, the musician turned author turned would-be Lone Star state governor said legalizing the weed would keep nonviolent users out of prison, adding that he would seek the release of those currently behind bars for marijuana offenses.
Kinky Friedman
"I think that's long overdue," Friedman said. "I think everybody knows what John McCain said is right: We've pretty well lost the war on drugs doing it the way we're doing it. Drugs are more available and cheaper than ever before. What we're doing is not working."

Friedman is running against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry (R), Democratic candidate Chris Bell, and Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, none of whom have called for marijuana legalization. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Friedman may need a massive stoner voter turnout -- he came in last with 16%, compared with 18% for Bell, 22% for Strayhorn, and Perry with 33%. There is no run-off election in Texas.

The humorist and raconteur's campaign had originally been viewed as a joke by most observers, but at 16% of the vote, Friedman can have a real impact on the race. And as the campaign heads for its climax, he has been articulating serious positions on issues like immigration (send 10,000 Texas National Guard to the border), crime (send $100 million to Houston to help police a city awash with Katrina refugees), and taxes (less of 'em).

But all seriousness aside, it is Friedman's comic sensibilities that have always made him stand out. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, he formed the outrageously named Kinky Friedman & His Texas Jewboys, featuring tunes like the "Okie from Muskogee" parody "Asshole from El Paso," the self-explanatory "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed," and the anti-semitism-confronting "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore."

And he's still got it on the campaign trail. "I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes," he said. As for the possibility of losing: "If I lose this race I will retire in a petulant snit," he said. "I'm not going to go out gracefully, I promise you."

Europe: Portugal Approves Safe Injection Sites, Moves to Start Prison Needle Exchange Programs

In an embrace of harm reduction principles, the Portuguese government has approved the establishment of safe injection sites for drug users and is working to have needle exchange programs in prisons by 2008, Medical News Today reported on August 30. The moves come as part of a package of measures designed to "reduce the consumption of drugs and diminish their harmful social and health effects," the Portuguese government said.

Portugal now follows the lead of Australia, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland, where working safe injection sites are in place. The sites have been shown to help slow the spread of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, reduce overdoses, reduce criminality, help drug users achieve more stable lives, and help some of them connect with treatment and/or counseling services.

While, according to the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse, Portugal's drug use rates are low by European standards, the country does have an injection drug-using population, mostly around heroin. About one-third of a sample of treatment patients in Portugal reported drug injection as their preferred route of administration.

Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2000, although drug sales remain illegal. But even if Portugal is not ready to take the giant step of ending drug prohibition, the actions of its government since then show that it continues to move in a progressive direction on drug policy issues.

Updates in Correctional Health Care

May 5-8, 2007 • Orlando, Florida

Call for Proposals Deadline: September 25 With 1,000 correctional health professionals from the United States and abroad attending Updates 2006, this vibrant and growing meeting is recognized as a forum in which to receive cutting-edge information and instruction from leaders in the correctional health care specialty. You can be one of those leaders, helping to develop your colleagues as professionals and to advance the field as a whole. This is your opportunity to share your expertise and lead one of the many stimulating and interactive educational sessions. Program Intent The intent of Updates in Correctional Health Care is to share the most innovative developments, treatment practices and case studies with conference attendees. Participants will gather to learn from you, an expert in the field of correctional health care. Educational Tracks Proposals should be submitted for consideration for only one area of interest. Tracks include but are not limited to...
  • Medical
  • Mental health
  • Nursing
  • Legal issues
  • Professional development
Topics to Consider Attendees at each conference are asked to suggest topics for future programming. Below are some suggestions to consider:
  • Assessment skills (e.g., medical, dental and mental health; emergency response)
  • Cardiology
  • Chronic illness and care
  • Dermatology (e.g., skin disorders, wound care)
  • Discharge planning
  • Infectious diseases (e.g., MRSA, HCV)
  • Management skills (e.g., leadership, organization, communication, budgeting, cost containment)
  • Methadone treatment (e.g., with pregnancy, in jails)
  • Pain management
  • Health promotion and disease prevention (e.g., patient education, nutrition, exercise)
  • Professional issues (e.g., career advancement, mentoring, scope of practice)
  • Quality improvement (e.g., procedures, outcomes data)
  • Staffing issues (e.g., recruitment and retention, meaningful performance reviews, team building, training leaders, working with unions)
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Triage (e.g., protocols, skills)
Selection Criteria and Review The NCCHC Education Committee will review all submissions. Decisions are based on the following criteria:
  • Content must be related to health care provided in correctional settings.
  • The topic must be timely and relevant.
  • Content must be accurate.
  • Content must be based on scientific modalities of diagnosis or therapy (if applicable).
  • The presentation must not show preference for one product or service over another unless there is a clear scientific or objective basis to do so, or unless the presentation format allows for a fair presentation of alternatives.
  • Corporate support, if any, must be disclosed.
  • If applicable, the presentation must be consistent with NCCHC standards and promote their use.
  • Presenters’ credentials should be appropriate to present the subject matter.
  • The presentation should be sufficiently in-depth to require the full time allotment (usually 1 hour).
  • Presentation goals and objectives should correspond with the conference goals and objectives.
Approved Proposals Presentations that incorporate hands-on teaching methods, audience participation and lively discussions are particularly desired. Selected proposals will be scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, May 7-8. Typically 60 minutes is allotted for each presentation. Presenter Support Presentation and speaker information will appear in the conference preliminary and final programs. Each room will be equipped with a podium, microphone, screen, head table and LCD projector. Additional audiovisual equipment may be rented at the speaker’s expense. AV rental forms will be enclosed with letters of acceptance, which will be sent to lead presenters in December. Presenter Disclosure Statement All presenters are required to disclose their intention to discuss in their presentation any commercial products or services in which they have significant financial interest. Additionally, lead presenters are required to disclose any significant relationships with commercial supporters of the conference, as identified on the disclosure form. Speaker disclosure forms will be enclosed with acceptance letters. Proposal Submission Process Proposals may be submitted online or by mail if copied to a CD-ROM or a diskette. Faxes will not be accepted. Each proposal must include the following:
  • Name, affiliation, address, phone, fax and e-mail address
  • A 75-word summary (for the conference program)
  • A 300-word abstract
  • Three learning objectives, i.e., what someone will learn by attending your session (Tips for writing learning objectives are available on our Web site.) CV for each presenter (max. 2 pages each). CVs can be sent via the online form or by e-mail to [email protected].
Your proposal should explain precisely what attendees can expect to gain from your presentation. Presentations promoting company products or services will not be accepted. If you have questions about the submission process, please contact Deborah Ross, director of education and meetings, at (773) 880-1460 or [email protected]. Proposal Deadline Proposals received by September 25 will be considered for inclusion in the program. Submission of a proposal implies a commitment to attend the conference should your proposal be accepted. All speakers will receive a discount on the conference registration fee. Submit your proposal online at National Commission on Correctional Health Care 1145 W Diversey Pkwy • Chicago, IL 60614-1318 773.880.1460 / 773.880.2424 (fax)
Sat, 05/05/2007 - 9:00am - Tue, 05/08/2007 - 5:00pm
Orlando, FL
United States

Luncheon Reception with Anthony Papa

The Open Society Institute - Washington Office hosts a Luncheon Reception and Discussion featuring Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom Friday, September 29, 2006 Noon-1:30pm 1120 19th Street, NW, 8th Floor Washington, DC 20036 RSVP by Sept. 22 to [email protected] or call (202) 721-5649 Anthony Papa is an acclaimed painter, author, and formerly incarcerated person. He is also the author of the book: 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom. Convicted of his first and only criminal offense in a police sting operation, Papa discovered painting while at Sing Sing and, essentially, painted his way to freedom. His 15-year sentence was cut short when one of his works was selected for exhibition at the Whitney Museum, and he was granted clemency by Governor Pataki. Since his release, Papa has become a noted advocate for law and prison reform. Anthony Papa will be in town as the honoree of the first annual Taste of Justice Fair, at the Martin Luther King Library, Saturday, September 30 from 10-5, cosponsored by the Prisons Foundation, along with a host of criminal justice, advocacy, legal, educational, and religious organizations. For more information on Taste of Justice, call (202) 393-1511.
Fri, 09/29/2006 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm
1120 19th Street, NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line”

For Immediate Release: September 7, 2006 Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 OR Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 New Government Survey Shows Illegal Drug Use Rates Holding Steady; Drug War Critics Point to Overwhelming Failure Death, Disease, Incarceration, Drug Availability All Up at Price Tag of $40 Billion+ Annually Reformers Call for a “New Bottom Line” That Focuses on Reducing the Harms of Both Drug Abuse and the War on Drugs; Offer Concrete Steps to Save Lives The federal government’s latest estimates of the number of Americans who use illegal drugs finds that illegal drug use rates are holding steady overall. While government officials find reason to be optimistic in some areas, they also find reasons to be pessimistic in others. For instance, fewer teens are using marijuana, but more young adults are using cocaine and illegal prescription drugs. The nation’s largest drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, is urging policymakers to look beyond drug use rates. "What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down, but whether the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition goes up or down,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs continues to cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year with nothing to show for it except broken families, overflowing jail cells and increasing drug overdoses.” Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse – addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis – continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of the war on drugs – broken families, racial disparities, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties – and critics claim that it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, if the government were serious about the health and welfare of its citizens, it would immediately take the following steps:
  • Make appropriate drug treatment available to every person who seeks it, including methadone maintenance - which has been proven to be the most effective treatment for heroin dependence.
  • Make sterile syringes readily and legally available through pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in order to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The United States is alone among advanced industrialized western nations in refusing to provide a penny for such programs, which save lives without increasing drug use.
  • Stop incarcerating citizens for drug possession, repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and return sentencing discretion to judges.
  • Stop wasting money and scarce law enforcement resources on marijuana, and allow states to tax, regulate, and control marijuana through legal, regulated markets if they choose. This would eliminate unregulated, criminal markets; generate tax revenue; make better use of scarce law enforcement resources; and allow state policymakers to regulate marijuana’s potency, establish age controls, and control marijuana’s use and availability. “The government’s current approach to drugs, with its drug free rhetoric and over-reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs billions more each year yet delivers less and less,” said Piper. “It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug abuse and the war on drugs.” ###
United States

Looking at Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

During the research I did for Friday's feature article on the prisoners doing "Katrina time", two of the of the people I talked to implored to look into the plight of another set of victims of the Louisiana criminal justice system: the "heroin lifers." The "heroin lifers" are a group of prisoners, many now aged, who were arrested under a draconian state law enacted in 1973 that mandated life in prison without parole for the sale of any amount of heroin or possession with intent to sell. Some were released on appeal beginning in the 1980s, but others linger in prison. At this point, I'm a little unclear on the numbers and the exact situation. The tough heroin law may have changed in the 1980s--I'm not sure yet--and the state dramatically reformed its sentencing practices in 2001. So why are the good citizens of Louisiana paying to keep a bunch of non-violent old men on the geriatric ward? I just did an initial Google search, and it revealed very little: Two links to a Louisiana blog that linked to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story that can no longer be found, and a five year old plea on a prison justice mailing list for help in the case of one of the lifers, then 53-year-old Earnest Perique, who was trying to get out after serving 26 years. I'll be looking into this for another feature story next week.
United States

Feature: Living on Katrina Time -- Lost in Louisiana's Gumbo Gulag

New Orleans resident Pearl Bland was arrested and jailed on drug paraphernalia charges in August 2005, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. She pleaded guilty on August 11, and her judge ordered her released the next day for placement in a drug rehabilitation program. Recognizing Bland was indigent, he waived the fines and fees. But Bland was not released the next day. The Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) instead held her because she owed $398 in fines and fees from an earlier arrest. She had one more court hearing in August and a September 20 status hearing was set where in all probability the fines and fees would have been waived.

Pearl Bland never got her September hearing. Instead, once Katrina hit, she joined thousands of prisoners stuck in purgatory. After suffering beatings from her fellow inmates in the OPP as deputies shrugged their shoulders, Bland was evacuated, first to the maximum security state prison at Angola and eventually to a jail in Avoyelles Parish. In June, she desperately contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which in turn contacted attorneys with the Tulane University Criminal Law Clinic, who managed to win her release on June 28. Bland wasn’t there for her release hearing, just as she hadn’t been present at four previous hearings in the preceding weeks, because her jailers couldn’t be bothered to deliver her to court.

"Pearl Bland spent 10 months in prisons around the state because of $398 in fines and fees that her judge would most likely have waived if she had ever gotten to court," said Tom Javits, an attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project. "But because of the storm and the the response to it, she didn’t get her day in court for months, and then only because she sought out help," he told the Drug War Chronicle.
ACLU report
It would be bad enough if Pearl Bland were a fluke, but sadly, her case is typical of what happened to people unfortunate enough to be behind bars when Katrina hit or to be arrested in the storm's aftermath. As the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Louisiana documented in their early August report, "Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Katrina," thousands of New Orleanians in custody when the storm hit were left on their own as guards fled the rising waters. Since then, those prisoners have been scattered to the winds, left without counsel, abused by guards, and left to rot by a justice system that is seemingly content to forget all about them. And with post-Katrina reconstruction bearing a very heavy law enforcement imprint, they have been joined by thousands more, many of them imprisoned for trivial crimes like spitting on the sidewalk, public drunkenness and simple drug possession.

A year after Katrina, thousands of prisoners have never seen an attorney, never been arraigned, never appeared before a judge. Scandalously, no one has a firm count -- or if they do, they're not telling. "Nobody knows the numbers," said law professor Pamela Metzger, who heads the Tulane Law School Criminal Law Clinic and whose students have been going into Louisiana jails and prisons in search of the Katrina prisoners. "When we ask the district attorney's office to assist us with this, just so people can get lawyers, they say it's not their job. Just since June, my students have been able to track down and get released about 95 people," said Metzger. "But we just have no one of knowing how many are in jail."

When the Chronicle asked ACLU of Louisiana executive director Joe Cook the same question, he had a similar answer. "I don't know what the number is. Ask the district attorney," he said.

The New Orleans district attorney's office did not return repeated calls seeking information on the number of people arrested before or after Katrina who have yet to see a lawyer or have a court hearing. Similarly, and perhaps indicative of the state of affairs at the public defenders office, no one there even answered the phone despite repeated calls. (That's not quite true. On one occasion, a woman answered, but she said she was an accountant and no one else was in the office.)

Published estimates of the number of New Orleans prisoners denied their basic rights to counsel and speedy trial have ranged between 3,000 and 6,000.

Part of the problem is the nearly total collapse of the indigent defender system in the city. It was in terrible shape before the storm hit, and collapsed along with the rest of the criminal justice system in the storm's wake. But while authorities were quick to get law enforcement up and running, it took until June for the criminal courts to begin to operate, and the public defenders' office, which depends on revenue from fines to finance its operations, was running on fumes. Now, nearly three-quarters of the public defenders have simply left even though they are needed to represent about 85% of all criminal defendants in the city.

The situation aroused the attention of the US Department of Justice, which in a report released in April concluded that: "People wait in jail with no charges, and trials cannot take place; even defendants who wish to plead guilty must have counsel for a judge to accept the plea. Without indigent defense lawyers, New Orleans today lacks a true adversarial process, the process to ensure that even the poorest arrested person will get a fair deal, that the government cannot simply lock suspects [up] and forget about them... For the vast majority of arrested individuals," the study found, "justice is simply unavailable."

The situation is also beginning to grate on the nerves of New Orleans judges. In May, Chief Judge of the Criminal District Court Calvin Johnson issued an order requiring everyone charged with traffic or municipal offenses to be cited instead of jailed. The city has "a limited number of jail spaces, and we can’t fill them with people charged with minor offenses such as disturbing the peace, trespassing or spitting on the sidewalk... I’m not exaggerating: There were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk," he complained.

Last week, another New Orleans criminal court judge, Arthur Hunter, made the news when he threatened to begin holding hearings this week to release some of the prisoners held for months without attorneys or court hearings. That was supposed to happen Tuesday, but it didn't. Instead, Judge Hunter postponed the hearing after prosecutors raised concerns.

While disruptions in the system were inevitable in the wake of Katrina, Tulane's Metzger laid part of the blame on the district attorney's office. "They have made some poor resourcing choices and they are hampered by a sort of knee-jerk response that everything has to be prosecuted to the fullest extent. They are not really looking to clear cases; instead they let people sit without lawyers until they're willing to plead guilty," she said. "It's a form of prosecutorial extortion."

It is not just people who were in jail when Katrina hit, but many of those arrested since who have vanished into the gumbo gulag, said Metzger. "Last week we found a man who had been jailed at the Angola maximum security prison since January. He was picked up for drug possession, his only prior was for marijuana, and he's been sitting in one of the meanest prisons in the country without even seeing a lawyer for eight months," she exclaimed. "We won an order for his release. He was supposed to get out Tuesday, but he's still in jail. We just don’t know how many more there are like him."

The district attorney's office is not only uncooperative, it is downright obstinate, Metzger complained. "We filed a right to speedy trial claim on behalf of a man named Gregory Lewis who had already served 10 months on a drug misdemeanor with a six-month maximum. The district attorney's office fought that, and their motion actually said, and I quote, 'It's not unreasonable to hold alleged drug addicts in jail longer than other people; it allows the deadly drugs to leave their system,'" she said.

The district attorney's office motion referred obliquely to detoxification, which is ironic given that there is now no such facility in New Orleans. "There is not a single detox bed in the whole city," said Samantha Hope of the Hope Network, a group that is seeking private funding to open a treatment and recovery center in the heart of the city. "Most folks in OPP right now are people who couldn’t get access to treatment for an alcohol or drug problem. That's the way it's been since day one," she told the Chronicle. "Rather than criminalize people with an alcohol or drug problem, we need to find a way to give them support. Confronting our money-eating corrections system, our good ol' boy network, and racism, that is hard to do."

The Tulane students have filed some speedy trial cases, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Tulane law student working his case so he can file a speedy trial claim. "In order to file a motion for a speedy trial, you have to have a lawyer, and thousands still do not have counsel,' explained ACLU of Louisiana's Cook. "The indigent defense system was broken long before Katrina hit, and now it is just a disaster," he told the Chronicle.

Drug war prisoners make up a significant but unknown number of those doing "Katrina time," said Cook. "It is definitely a significant proportion of them," he said, "but many of them have not even been formally charged. In New Orleans, as in most large urban areas, it's probably safe to say that a plurality of felony arrests are drug-related."

There are solutions, but they won't come easily. "We have to have a public defender's office that is funded with secure, predictable funding," Metzger recommended. "We have to get beyond relying on fines to fund that office. If we had had public defenders, there would have been someone watching to catch the abuses," she said.

"Second, we need to have prosecutors who understand their obligations to the community," Metzger continued. "Their job is not simply to get convictions but to do justice, and what that means will vary according to the individual facts and circumstances. What post-Katrina justice requires is not what justice required before Katrina. If you were living in New Orleans in the fall of 2005 and you weren’t drunk or high, there was probably something wrong with you. Everyone was medicated or self-medicating."

Cook had his own set of recommendations for a fix. "First, we turn up the heat. I just visited the DA this morning and asked him to speed up processing," he revealed. "We want to ensure there is a coordinated emergency evacuation plan for all the prisons and jails and we've asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to look at what happened at OPP and since. Part of that will be looking at why these people didn’t get defense counsel or have their day in court."

Turning up the heat is precisely what one recently formed community group is trying to do. And it's not just the prosecutors and public defender system it is targeting. "The police department has taken a new view of who belongs in the city now, and that view doesn’t include poor black people," said Ursula Price of Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a group organizing people who were in the jail or otherwise brutalized by police. Safe Streets, Strong Communities is running two campaigns, one to strengthen the indigent defender system and one about improving conditions at the jail itself. "They tell our members 'you shouldn’t have come back, we don't want your kind here,'" she told the Chronicle. "Race is an issue, economics is an issue, and our teenage boys are bearing the brunt of it. They are harassed all the time by the police."

It is a matter of choices, said Price. "We have as many cops as before the storm, and half as many people, and we just gave the cops a raise. The city finance department deliberately spends the vast majority of its money on public safety, and then there is nothing left for social services, which are deliberately being sacrificed," she said. "But I'm encouraged because the community is starting to take note. When people found out we were spending half a million dollars a week on the National Guard without it having any impact, they started to get mobilized."

Cook had a full list of needed reforms, ranging from downsizing the jail population by stopping the practice of using it to hold state and federal prisoners, to creating adequate programming for health care and treatment within the jail, to decreasing the number of people held as pretrial detainees. "We need pretrial diversion, bail reform, and cite and release policies to hold down the jail population," he argued. "There needs to be the political will to do this. It's a crime to jail a kid when there is a choice, and there are many other choices. And we ought to be treating drug abuse as a public health issue, not a law enforcement issue."

The prospects look gloomy. "It is going to take enlightened leadership, and I see only a glimmer of hope for that," said Cook. "But we are not giving up. The state juvenile justice system is finally undergoing reforms because of pressure from families and activists, and I think it will take the same sort of effort to fix things at the adult level and here in New Orleans, at the parish level. That is already happening here with the OPP Reform Coalition, the Safe Streets people, and all that."

But there is a long, long way to go in New Orleans.

Doing "Katrina Time"

It has been a scandal festering for a year now. Thousands of people being held in the Orleans Parish Prison and other facilities when Hurricana Katrina hit a year ago today are still behind bars. They have never seen a judge or had a hearing. They just sit. While the rest of the local criminal justice apparatus is up and running, the courts remain a mess and most of the public defenders are gone. Last week USA Today ran a story about New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter, a fed-up jurist who was threatening to start setting those prisoners free starting Tuesday. No news yet on whether that occurred--I'll post back later today with a preliminary report. I have been speaking with people in New Orleans about this for a few weeks, including Samantha Hope, a Louisiana harm reductionist who has been in the trenches in New Orleans since well before Katrina. This Friday's Chronicle will quote her extensively, but I thought I'd post a little preview of what I've learned. One thing I've learned that getting out of jail in New Orleans is like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. "These folks coming out of OPP now are really in dire straits," Hope told me. "You've been held for over a year for smoking a joint, and when you get out, everything you know has vanished. The people are gone, the neighborhood is gone, it's all gone." I'm also going to follow-up with Human Rights Watch, which reported just after the hurricane that jail inmates appeared to have been literally abandoned as the waters rose, and hundreds were missing. The ACLU has done a similar report, and I'll be talking to them, too, as well as people involved in the public defender system. But right now New Orleans doesn't feel too responsive; the defenders are way overworked and understaffed, the sheriff's department won't return my calls, and so it goes. But stay tuned, there will be an update later today and a feature article on Friday.
New Orleans, LA
United States

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