By Matthew Crawford
Although there are many uncertainties in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, one thing is clear: the road to recovery is going to be long and strenuous. Along with tens of thousands of residents and business owners who must pick up the pieces of their lives that were scattered by the massive storms, corrections and law enforcement agencies must also work to restore the legal system on the gulf coast.
In New Orleans 6,000 inmates were evacuated over three days. Many are being housed by the Louisiana Department of Corrections, which is housing more than 8,000 additional inmates from throughout the state following the disasters. As of press time all 10 correctional facilities in New Orleans are non-operational, and a makeshift jail – composed of chain-link fencing, barbed wire and portable toilets – at a bus and train depot is still in use.
The first inmate at the facility was a man who drove up to the station in a stolen car looking to buy a bus ticket, according to reports. The jail – aptly titled Camp Greyhound until officials from the bus company that shares the same name complained – can hold up to 700 offenders on a concrete terminal platform. Because of the revolving-door nature of the facility, the number of inmates housed there fluctuates on a daily basis.
“It’s temporary and they are moving them on to other facilities,” says sheriff's spokeswoman Renee Lapeyrolerie. “They are not trying to keep them there for any length of time. They're in and out of there.”
While the facility is providing a temporary Band-Aid, law enforcement officials are continuing to make strides in getting New Orleans' permanent jails back online. As of press time the New Orleans Sheriff's Department is close to having one of its facilities in working order. It was spared from major damage to its operational systems because they are located on the third floor – out of reach from the floodwaters that submerged 80 percent of the city.
Other facilities will take more work. In late September, one facility was still under eight feet of water, according to Lapeyrolerie.
While the recovery process continues, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections and other agencies throughout the state have provided accommodations for the parish's inmates at 38 facilities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has also provided assistance, taking in 900 inmates at a newly constructed penitentiary in Coleman, Fla., that was scheduled to open in September.
“It's a brand new facility,” says Mike Truman, FBOP spokesman. “There were no inmates there. In fact, the institution was going to be dedicated [in September]. We had staff and we were ready to bring in federal inmates, but this took priority.”