Friday, August 24, 2007

NOLA Is Fucked: Criminal Justice Edition

New Orleans has the highest incarceration rate of any major U.S. city -- double the national rate. Louisiana also locks up more people in local jails than any state, in part because of state laws, unheard of in other parts of the country, that paralyze due process.

District attorneys have 60 days from the time of arrest to decide whether to press charges and typically use the full statutory time limit. From there, it takes an average of three months for detainees to get a court date. It can take up to three years to get to trial. According to a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice, 40 percent of those entering the Orleans Parish Prison would qualify to be released on their own recognizance. Instead, the city opts to lock people up if they can't post bail, which is true of three-quarters of the jail's detainees.

Callers from Orleans Parish Prison also report dungeonlike conditions: Twenty-five people held in cells built for 10, so many people sleeping in one area that you can't even see the floor, no fresh or conditioned air, overflowing toilets, inconsistent electricity and iffy plumbing.

The prison has yet to regain the accreditation it lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of inmates were abandoned in fetid floodwaters in what local writer and criminal defense attorney Billy Sothern described as "the biggest prison crisis since Attica." more

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