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September 28, 2005

Locked Up to Die in Templeman III

Since hurricane Katrina hit we've all heard many stories of poor planning, and poor-to-horrible choices made by people who were in various positions of responsibility in terms of helping to reduce the human cost of the storm. But among those stories, yesterday was the first I'd heard of the Orleans Parish jail where guards and officials just left the prisoners locked up to die when the floodwaters started rising. L. pointed me to yesterday's Democracy Now which has many of the details about the facility known as Templeman III.

Thumbnail sketch: The storm started and no one did anything about evacuating the jail; instead, many area jails transferred prisoners there so the place was totally overcrowded w/people just wandering in common areas, etc. Water started rising, the guards abandoned the jail. Eventually some of the prisoners who were sort of “free” in the common areas helped others break out of lower cells so they wouldn't drown. And when prisoners eventually got out of the jail, the guards were waiting outside to transport them to an overpass where they were made to sit, some for three days or more. They were not allowed to move and had to relieve themselves where they sat. They were also not given food or water. When they were eventually bused out, they were scattered all over the place to approximately 39 facilities. This has made tracking them down and helping them get out of jail a nightmare. Many of them were moved to a prison football field somewhere where death-row prisoners were mingling freely w/misdemeanor defendants who hadn't even had a trial yet and had just been picked up for reading taro cards w/out a permit. Guards would come to the football field once a day and throw peanut butter sandwiches over the fence.

Currently over 500 prisoners from Templeman III are still unaccounted for, though it seems unlikely that that many died. Thank goodness for criminal defense attorneys Phyllis Mann, Ben Cohen, and Marcia Widder, who have been investigating all of this and have filed writs of habeas to get as many of these people released as possible.

Imagine: You're picked up for something ridiculous like reading taro cards, you face a max of 1-3 days in jail maybe—if you're even convicted—and you end up being in jail for weeks and going through all of the above horror. Many of these people were just being held pending trial!

How the heck could this happen? What were those guards thinking when they just left the jail w/thousands of prisoners locked inside as the water began to rise?

Posted September 28, 2005 11:29 AM | crimlaw

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