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Juvenile Detention in New Orleans Before,
During, and After Hurricane Katrina


juvenile justice project of louisiana

Nothing in the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) mission or history1 prepared the organization for
Hurricane Katrina. Katrina battered the Mississippi Gulf Coast and almost totally destroyed New Orleans,
Louisiana. Housing, schools and entire ways of life were decimated by the storm. JJPL staff was forced to
evacuate New Orleans. Particularly vulnerable were New Orleans’ children. Approximately 150 youth were
trapped in detention centers in and around New Orleans as Katrina approached. The city of New Orleans
moved the youth held at the Youth Study Center (YSC) to Templeman 5, a unit at Orleans Parish Prison
(OPP). The city did not move any of the children already housed at OPP in the South White Detention
Center, commonly known as the Conchetta Youth Center (CYC). Thus, all of Orleans Parish’s children in
detention were inside OPP when Katrina made landfall.
The young people abandoned to the flood waters were evacuated and placed in the custody of the Louisiana
Office of Youth Development (OYD).2 OYD utilized Jetson Center for Youth (JCY) near Baton Rouge, Louisiana
and Swanson Center for Youth (SCY), in Monroe, Louisiana – two juvenile prisons3 – and other detention
centers to house these youth, but not until days after the storm flooded the cells of the Katrina-trapped children.
JJPL, OYD and the Orleans Parish Juvenile court moved quickly and together4 to ensure the evacuated
children had access to legal representation, access to the courts and access to their scattered families.
Consequently, the children evacuated from detention in Orleans saw their cases continue to move through
the juvenile justice system. This leadership ensured the continued operation of the Orleans Parish Juvenile
Court system and resulted in the speedy reunification of nearly 100 youth with their families and the proper
disposition of scores of other cases.
This report follows the journey taken by these trapped children – from OPP to OYD. In their own words, a
harrowing tale of escape, mismanagement and neglect unfolds, illustrating deep problems in New Orleans’
system of juvenile justice and how we treat children in New Orleans. Experts note that detention is the
cornerstone of a local juvenile justice system. Problems with Orleans Parish’s detention centers and our
juvenile justice system – made more pronounced by Katrina’s damage – were neither created nor washed
away by Katrina’s impact.
New Orleans is now in the midst of rebuilding. As we seek to rebuild a better Crescent City, it is critical to
rethink how we treat our children. We need a juvenile justice system built on a foundation of alternatives,
safety, humanity and common sense. In short, we need to treat our children better. To that end, this report
recommends reform. Specifically, New Orleans needs to reduce its reliance on secure detention as a part of
an effective juvenile justice system, depending instead on a system of detention built upon best practice. We
must take the opportunity to make sure that the juvenile justice system in Orleans parish is rebuilt to help
our youth and help build our families and community. We at JJPL look forward to working with everyone that
cares about our young people and our city to make this vision a reality.

David Utter, Director
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

As Hurricane Katrina approached, people throughout the region began to evacuate by the hundreds of
thousands. New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin estimated that by Sunday night, nearly one million people had fled
New Orleans and its surrounding parishes.6 Among the many people who could not flee – even as the Weather
Service’s warnings continued, even as the city descended into chaos – was a group of children locked up in
Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The stories of these children, the systemic failures that led to their abandonment
and the strategies necessary to fix juvenile detention in New Orleans are the subject of this Report.
As conditions worsened in New Orleans on August 28, authorities at two local juvenile detention facilities – the
Youth Study Center (YSC) and the St. Bernard Juvenile Detention Center – made a fateful decision to transport
the children under their care to OPP in downtown New Orleans. Before Katrina, OPP housed an average of
nearly 6000 adult inmates and 41 children, making it the ninth largest jail in the United States.7 The children
of OPP were confined separately from adults, in a section of the prison known as the South White Detention
Center or the Community Youth Center (CYC). Together with the new arrivals from YSC and St. Bernard
Parish, the population of CYC brought the total number of children held at OPP on August 28 to somewhere
between 100 and 150.8 The supervision and care of these children now became the direct responsibility of OPP’s
managing authority: the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Department, headed by Marlin N. Gusman.
Over the course of the next week following the storm, these children – a substantial percentage of whom had
only just been arrested and not adjudicated of any crime9 – would endure flooding, exposure to toxins, food
deprivation, water deprivation, medical care deprivation, heat exposure, violence and significant psychological
stress. None were evacuated until after the levees broke and floodwaters inundated the city. Many children
believed they would die at OPP. Until now, the voices of these children remained largely unheard.


Purpose and Methodology

A most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength…Most of the
area will be uninhabitable for weeks – perhaps longer…All gabled
roofs will fail – leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed…
The majority of industrial buildings will become non-functional…
Power outages will last for weeks…Water shortages will make human
suffering incredible by modern standards.5

This Report has three objectives: (1) to allow the children held at OPP to tell the story of what happened to them inside
that prison before, during and after Hurricane Katrina;10 (2) to identify the institutional failures present long before the
storm which allowed for these events to take place; and (3) to begin the discussion on how to reform the city’s juvenile
justice system. As we make a commitment to treat our children better through education reform and expanding
economic opportunities for youth and families in our city, we need to create a fair juvenile justice system, including a
safer, smaller and more humane system of youth detention based on best practices and a continuum of alternatives.
Gathering information in post-Katrina New Orleans – and post-Katrina Louisiana – presented innumerable challenges.
Children and families are scattered across the country, documents are lost or missing, some city employees cannot be
found, and political tensions are high. Many of the children interviewed for this report were still confined in detention
centers and juvenile prisons across Louisiana as we spoke with them, and each child was dealing with the trauma of
the storm and evacuation differently. For example, some were slow to answer questions, appearing to suffer from posttraumatic stress, others seemed to have limited memories at first, others showed disinterest, or embarrassment.
Institutional personnel were also dealing with trauma and politics. Officers and personnel from OPP sometimes
refused to speak with us for fear of reprisal while others were so angry we could not stop them from talking. Many
expressed their intent to never work at OPP again. We did not receive any response when we requested documents
from the detention centers (the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s office and the City of New Orleans).11
The children and staff identified in this report were interviewed over the course of several months by JJPL
staff. This report incorporates interviews with more than 60 children, staff and experts. It also incorporates
investigation and research supplied by JJPL staff, Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the American Civil
Liberties Union, National Prison Project (ACLU).
The people of New Orleans deserve to know what happened to children in detention as the worst natural
disaster in U.S. history unfolded, and the citizens of New Orleans deserve prompt action to reform the
detention system so nothing like this ever happens again. In all ways – including fair treatment in our juvenile
justice system – we need to demand better treatment of our children.

History of a Broken System
“[G]uards hit kids and threaten to beat them up … guards beat kids up every
day;” “[I] had to wake up at 4 a.m. to eat oatmeal that made me throw up.
[CYC makes] my nerves bad.”
Long before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city’s juvenile justice system was broken. In 1997, the
New York Times called the Orleans Parish juvenile justice system the worst in the nation.12 In 2002 American
Prospect magazine made this observation:
The waiting room of the New Orleans juvenile court is hot and crowded. Its … walls stare down on angry
parents, [handcuffed] teenagers and the occasional lawyer. In a corner, Victor Papai, the head of [juvenile
public defense] at the juvenile court, shares a 4-foot-by-10-foot office with a staff of six part-time attorneys.
Each handles close to 800 cases per year – four times the federally recommended annual caseload for fulltime juvenile defenders. But when I enter, Papai is alone playing solitaire on his computer.13
New Orleans was also criticized for its treatment of children in detention. For years, children at YSC and
CYC endured unsanitary conditions, inadequate education, mental health and medical services, persistent
violence by guards and between children, and overcrowding. Indeed, in 1993 the situation was so dire that the
Youth Law Center sued CYC, calling the detention center unconstitutional.14 The lawsuit was settled after one
day of trial, resulting in a consent decree requiring that CYC fulfill a series of court-monitored obligations.15
The Louisiana Children’s Code provides foundation and guidance for measuring humane conditions in
juvenile facilities. The code states, children “shall receive, preferably in [their] own home, the care, guidance,
and control that will be conducive to [their] welfare and the best interests of the state and that in those
instances when [children are] removed from the control of [their] parents, the court shall secure for [them]
care as nearly as possible equivalent to that which the parents should have given….”16
Despite litigation, conditions at CYC and YSC remained dirty, violent and dangerous. During interviews
conducted by JJPL in June 2002,17 children at CYC identified a wide range of institutional problems. For
example, W.B., a 16 year-old boy held at CYC, complained that the detention center was extremely hot and
inundated with various insects. More disturbing, he complained of abusive violent guards, stating “guards hit
kids and threaten to beat them up … guards beat kids up every day.” W.B. stated CYC staff continually denied
youth an opportunity to attend school as well. When interviewed by JJPL, W.B. was very upset about having
to wear the same underwear for three days.

being locked up. She was 4 months pregnant and had asked to see a doctor but wasn’t allowed to do so. Her
biggest complaint to JJPL in 2002 was about the lack of air conditioning; G.C. noted that YSC is a place that
nobody should be.
W.J., a 16 year-old boy, complained that YSC was too hot, he was kept in his cell for too long, and he was
not provided enough food. W.J. told JJPL in 2002 that he was denied access to counselors and that the only
visitors allowed were his mother, father, or guardian (no siblings or other relatives).
Other interviews of children held at YSC illustrated many other concerns as well:19
• Little to no clean underwear, resulting in unsanitary sharing of clothing.
• Frequent flooding.
• Mattresses described as “hard yellow things with a piece of cotton.”
• Insects frequently found in food.
• Cockroaches in rooms.
• Inadequate nutrition, resulting in the YSC nickname “Youth Starvation Center.”
• Limited programming and planned activities, whereby residents found themselves “counting the bricks in our stalls.”
• Staff members, particularly females, persistently “putting us down and cursing at us.”
• Excessive physical restraint, including being choked and slapped by staff.
• Limited educational opportunities.
• No mental health or therapy services.
• No visitation permitted with their own children, according to one 14 year-old female, and no parenting classes.
These excessively harsh conditions of detention in Orleans Parish before Katrina were experienced most often
by African-American children. Pre-Katrina, 66.6% of Orleans Parish was African-American.20 CYC’s pre-Katrina
population, by comparison, was 98.7% African-American.21 YSC’s population was 95% African-American.22
The tragic stories of the children detained during Katrina are extraordinary by any measure. Yet viewed in the
context of Orleans Parish detention practices, they reveal themselves to be the logical outgrowth of a broken
system. This system, despite years of criticism and court intervention, has subjected thousands of children to
mistreatment and deprivation. When confronted by a massive – albeit widely predicted – natural disaster in
August 2005, it simply crumbled. Children previously neglected were now abandoned entirely. The people of
New Orleans cannot tolerate the rebuilding of that system. It must be dismantled, re-designed, and replaced.

Other children told of how CYC failed to protect children from violence committed by other children. C.W., a
14 year-old boy held at CYC in 2002, complained of unchecked threats of violence by other children. He told
JJPL that he stayed in his cell all day to avoid problems.
C.J., a 15 year-old boy, complained of routine strip searches and told of how awful the food was. He stated he
“had to wake up at 4 a.m. to eat oatmeal that made [him] throw up.” C.J. stated the rat-infested CYC made his
“nerves bad.”
YSC houses both boys and girls (CYC only houses boys). In April 2002, JJPL interviewed residents of YSC
regarding its conditions.18 They, too, reported a wide range of problems.
D.R., a 15 year-old boy, stated YSC was bad because it was much too hot and had way too many bugs. There
was trash in the windows blocking any air from getting in. D.R. kept talking about the heat, saying it was so
hot that you could pass out, which made him feel unsafe. He stated he saw fights between kids once in a while
but saw guards slapping around kids often. D.R. told us a guard slapped in the back of the neck.
G.C., a 16 year-old girl, had been detained 3 days when she talked to us. G.C. was very sad and worried about

Lack of Readiness

In the wake of Katrina, as citizens, journalists and advocates began asking tough questions of local
authorities, Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman made the following claim in response to repeated requests for
a copy of OPP’s evacuation plan: “[T]he plan has been found, but it will not satisfy anyone expecting a
comprehensive solution to an event such as Hurricane Katrina. You’re not going to see any kind of evacuation
plan that details what we did because no one ever imagined we would be surrounded by 7 to 8 feet of water.”25
Gusman’s claim is simply wrong when compared with predictions made over many years by scientists,
journalists, policymakers and engineers.26 Indeed, Gusman’s statement directly contradicts the findings of a
local study released two full years before Katrina struck.
In September 2003, the Orleans Parish Hazard Mitigation Team (Mitigation Team) released a draft copy
of the “Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan” (“the Plan”), a comprehensive study of potential hazards faced
by Orleans Parish, including floods and hurricanes.27 The Plan was produced in response to the Disaster
Mitigation Act of 2000, a federal bill requiring all local governments to develop such plans in order to remain
eligible for federal disaster-relief funds.28 The Orleans Parish Planning Committee included representatives
from a wide array of private and public organizations.29


The Mitigation Team’s findings were clearly stated and spelled out in great detail how the area surrounding
Orleans Parish Prison faced a risk of floodwaters rising up to eight feet: “While the levees in Orleans Parish
along Lake Pontchartrain are expected to hold a 14 foot storm surge, there is the possibility of extensive
flooding in Orleans Parish from a Category 3 storm due to inflow of water from other parishes…The worst
flooding, over eight feet of water, would be in neighborhoods to the west and east of City Park. Almost all of
New Orleans between Lake Pontchartrain and Claiborne Avenue would receive four to eight feet of water.”30
The location of OPP is clearly marked in the shaded area that corresponds to “4 – 8 Feet of Flooding.”

Things were chaotic after the storm; no one gave any orders –
everyone said, “I think we need to do this; I think we need to do that.”


“Emergency planning is one of the most important responsibilities of
any jail administration for staff and inmates because without good
planning, chaos will reign, security will be breached and the lives of
staff, visitors and inmates most likely will be in jeopardy.”

The Plan made other findings relevant to the predictability of Katrina’s impact on OPP, including:
• “Structural damages from floods are a recurring problem in New Orleans. According to the National Flood
Insurance Program, Orleans Parish ranks second in the country in terms of repetitive loss structures (RLS).”31
• “[After a flood in] May 1995… [t]he City of New Orleans reported $27,673,200 in damages to public
buildings. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff ’s Office and OPP were among the hardest hit. City-owned
vehicles suffered an additional $112,221 in damages. Also, the City reported that $12,000,000 in street repairs
were needed due to flooding.”32
• “[F]looding is one of the biggest threats to Orleans Parish. Heavy rains are common in New Orleans and
a large portion of the city lies within the 100-year flood plain. A major flood will result in much property
damage to residential and non-residential structures and much disruption to the lives of people who live and
work in New Orleans. When it comes to floods in New Orleans, the question is ‘when,’ not ‘if.’”33
• “Based on the evidence from Hurricane Georges in 1998, the waves from a Category 3 hurricane could
cause considerable flooding. Georges was a Category 2 storm when it brushed New Orleans. It produced a
storm surge of 7 feet above sea level in Lake Pontchartrain. Debris from some 70 fishing camp structures that
were destroyed by Georges shows that the waves came within one foot of the top of the levee."34
• “While the damages that a hurricane might cause to Orleans Parish are uncertain, it is certain that Orleans
Parish will face hurricanes in the future…Although the chance that Orleans Parish will be hit by a Category
4 or 5 storm is low, the risk from any hurricane is greater now than it was in the past [due to the erosion of
natural defenses, such as barrier islands and marsh lands].35
• “[A] Category 3 hurricane passing directly over New Orleans would have a tremendous impact on the City…
[T]he damages from a hurricane like that profiled would be extraordinary.”36

Sheriff Gusman’s post-Katrina insistence that massive flooding of New Orleans was never predicted does
not square with reality for two reasons. First, OPP was evacuated before, on May 8-9, 1995, when 750 adult
inmates were moved to the Louisiana State Penitentiary because of a large storm that hit the city.37 Second,
numerous professionals in a wide range of fields warned city leaders for years about the precise scenario
presented by Katrina. Why did Gusman feel compelled, after the fact, to contradict them? Evidence of OPP’s
lack of preparation offers some answers.

At a press conference on the morning of August 28, Mayor Nagin was asked about his decision not to evacuate
OPP. He referred the question to Sheriff Gusman, who said: “[W]e have backup generators to accommodate any
power loss…We’re fully staffed. We’re under our emergency operations plan. … [W]e’ve been working with the
police department – so we’re going to keep our prisoners where they belong.”38 A review of the facts, however,
reveals that a very different scenario unfolded, one in which staff members were either not available or left their
posts and there may not have been any “emergency operations plan” in place at all.
1. What is Required of the Sheriff’s Office?

Under Louisiana law, the Sheriff is the “keeper of the public jail” in Orleans Parish.39 This authority carries
with it certain responsibilities. “Each sheriff shall be the keeper of the public jail of his parish, and shall by all
lawful means preserve the peace and apprehend all disturbers thereof, and other public offenders.40 … The
sheriffs or jailkeepers shall supply each prisoner daily with wholesome food sufficient in quantity for the proper
maintenance of life. They shall provide the prisoners with clothing suited to and sufficient for the season.”41
In the event of an emergency, the Sheriff may, at his discretion, transfer inmates to jail in other parishes.
“Whenever the jail of a parish is unsafe or unfit for the security of prisoners...or presents a security risk to a
prisoner or other prisoners...the sheriff of the parish maintaining and keeping the...prisoners may transfer any...
prisoners to the jail or jails of any other parish by written contract with the sheriff of the other parish.”42 Sheriff
Gusman’s decision not to evacuate OPP prior to Katrina calls into question why he did not exercise earlier the
transfer authority granted him by Louisiana law. The chaotic and dangerous evacuation process itself raises
another question: What plan, if any, was relied on by Gusman and his subordinates in executing the evacuation?
2. The OPP Evacuation Plan

On September 21, 2005, the ACLU sent a formal request to Sheriff that his office produce, among other
things, “All documents pertaining to any evacuation plans that were in effect at the OPP as of August 26,
2005.”43 On November 11, 2005, having received nothing in response to its request, the ACLU filed suit.44
Finally, the Sheriff ’s Office complied, producing a one and a half page document entitled: “Orleans Parish
Criminal Sheriff ’s Office Hurricane/Flood Contingency Plan.”
The inadequacies of the Contingency Plan are obvious on its face. It fails to explain evacuation routes, does
not include a map, excludes any mention of how prisoners are to be removed from the facility, identifies only
three emergency items (“flashlights, extra bedding and emergency rations”) and identifies emergency vehicles
as simply “departmental vehicles and watercraft.” Perhaps most striking, it provides no direction for any specific
personnel other than requiring “essential security personnel” to meet with the Sheriff. In addition, no mention
is made of evacuation training and exercises for staff and no reference is provided to an employee manual. The
reference to stockpiling food and water is unaccompanied by any explanation for how to allocate and distribute
those resources. No specific locations are named as potential evacuation destinations for evacuated prisoners,
no fixed rendezvous locations are named, and no other state or parish agency is specifically identified as a
coordinating partner. The Contingency Plan produced by Sheriff Gusman is cursory and inadequate at best.

this, it ignored best practice on how prisons should prepare for and manage evacuations.
3. Professional Standards

“Emergency planning is one of the most important responsibilities of any jail administration for staff and
inmates because without good planning, chaos will reign, security will be breached and the lives of staff,
visitors and inmates most likely will be in jeopardy.”48 This is precisely what happened at OPP during Katrina,
except that “children” must be added to the list of those whose lives were in jeopardy. Had Orleans Parish and
Sheriff ’s Gusman’s office managed the facility in accordance with professional guidelines well established in
the corrections field, the Katrina evacuation may have avoided descending into such a state.
According to the American Correctional Association (ACA), an organization whose goals include the development
of standards “based on valid, reliable research and exemplary correctional practice,”49 “[E]mergency evacuation
plans are required for correctional facilities.”50 At the ACA’s 2005 Winter Conference, professionals in the
corrections field considered how penal institutions should prepare and execute those plans. “[T]he speakers
emphasized key points such as planning ahead of time and paying close attention to details. [David] Bass [Regional
Manager of Security and Training in the Eastern Region of the Virginia Department of Corrections], explained
that the more a facility prepares ahead of time, the less likely it is that it will have a catastrophic situation, which
[John] Garman [Warden of St. Brides Correctional Center in Virginia], succinctly pointed out, would only take
one inmate escaping. … Key aspects of evacuation discussed in the workshop included transporting inmates from
one place to the next, where the inmates could be held, supervising the inmates and providing them with basic
necessities. ...”51 The “key aspects” mentioned by the ACA speakers are all areas in which the OPP evacuation fell
into confusion and, in some instances, outright chaos. If “one inmate escaping” qualifies as “catastrophic,” then
what happened in and outside OPP during Katrina was something far worse than a catastrophe.
It did not have to happen that way. As the ACA speakers noted, “Whether it be planning an alternate route
to a destination or having options when it comes to where a facility will move the inmates, the unpredictable
nature inherent in emergencies dictates the planning of [] alternatives. ... Details [are] of the utmost
importance. By creating checklists and strictly adhering to evacuation plans, officials can minimize undesired
incidences and maximize public safety. ...”52 One need not read Sheriff Gusman’s Contingency Plan closely to
see that it is devoid of details. Checklists are nowhere to be found.
As for training, according to the American Correctional Association, “[E]xercises must be conducted on a
quarterly basis, on every shift and in every section, including the administrative areas.”53 Rigorous instruction
and mock evacuations are critical to maintaining readiness. “The depth that a facility tests its plan is up
to administrators, but if sufficient efforts are not taken to ensure an evaluation of all portions of the plan
periodically, staff is being done a grave disservice. After all, the entire plan may look great on paper, but until
it is exercised, evaluated and improved, it may not work when an actual emergency occurs.”54
Contrary to the damage-control of Sheriff Gusman and others, all signs point toward the conclusion that the
OPP evacuation was not sufficiently well planned – despite substantial scientific evidence predicting the type
of damage caused by Katrina. This failure alone, apart from the stories of the children themselves, calls into
serious question the competence of Gusman’s office to manage OPP safely. Certainly it should lead Parish
leaders to conclude that children have no place there. Most important, it should lead New Orleans citizens
to demand a system of detention that is managed humanely and responsibly, in accordance with the highest
professional standards.

Yet even the minimal requirements of its own Contingency Plan were not followed by the Sheriff’s Office.
Numerous reports from staff and children establish that OPP lacked a “96-hour supply of essential materials,
including food and water, in each building.”45 Indeed, no child reported eating after Monday, August 29 – the day
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. “Emergency rations” were not distributed46 and it is questionable whether, “24
hours before the expected arrival of the hurricane,” Gusman ordered “the evacuation of all single story buildings.”47
Having failed to comply with its own Contingency Plan, the Sheriff ’s Office broke its own rules. More than



The Water
Many of the children’s stories involve coming into direct contact with the flood waters in a variety of ways
including forced submersion in the water, accidental swallowing of flood waters, and intentional consumption
of the contaminated water due to dehydration. The risks the children were forced to take because of
the negligence and lack of preparedness on the part of the Sheriff, are deeply troubling. Analysis of the
contaminated waters in the specific location of OPP completed by Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist at the
Natural Resources Defense Council, revealed risks that certainly no parent would ever choose for their child.
Though thousands of New Orleans residents faced similar exposures after not evacuating, the exposures of
the children in question were completely preventable by either evacuation or flood readiness.
Contaminants in Flood Waters

The flood waters around the jail were subsequently found to be seriously contaminated with harmful
bacteria, heavy metals, and probably petroleum hydrocarbons. These contaminants likely posed a significant
health threat to the juveniles who were in direct contact with the water. On September 7, 2005, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested flood water at four locations within a mile radius of the jail.55
The testing revealed high concentrations of E. coli,56 potentially deadly bacteria, in the flood waters. E. coli
comes from human feces and indicates significant sewage contamination of the water.57 The concentrations
of arsenic and lead in the water exceeded federal standards for drinking water (there are no standards for
floodwater).58 Other contaminants detected in the water for which there are no clearly applicable standards
included cancer-causing chemicals, an herbicide associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of cancer)
and an insecticide that is a deadly poison at high doses. There are no data to indicate the likely health effects
of this mixture of chemical contaminants.59
The EPA website contains the following warning:60

The Stories61
The Move to OPP

In his mandatory evacuation order, delivered at 9:30 am on Sunday, August 28, 2005, New Orleans Mayor Ray
Nagin made five exceptions: prisons, hospitals, tourists, officials and media.62 Consistent with that order, the
children already held at CYC – a facility within OPP – remained where they were, along with thousands of adult
inmates. At some point that day, authorities at YSC and St. Bernard Parish Detention Center began to bring
the children in their care to OPP. None of them recalls being informed by guards or other staff who made that
decision or how it was reached. As of this writing, no official from any facility has provided an explanation.
Before leaving YSC, T.J., a 17 year-old boy, reported the children were told “to take one sheet with them. We
weren’t allowed to take deodorant or mail or anything else.” They were subsequently handcuffed, shackled,
and brought by van to OPP. D.C., a 15 year-old boy, also from YSC, reported being brought to OPP in a van
with eight other boys, “all cuffed and shackled.” R.S., a 15 year-old girl, said she was taken in a van with fifteen
girls, two of them pregnant, to OPP from the YSC girls’ ward. T.G., a sixteen year-old boy, reported that two
vans transported a group of 30-40 children, separated by gender, from YSC to OPP.
A.F., a 16 year-old boy, was one of the few children transferred to OPP from St. Bernard Parish. He reported
having been moved on Saturday, August 27, with one other boy.
Arrival at OPP

When the children arrived at OPP from YSC, some – perhaps the majority – were held in “Templeman
5,” one of several buildings on the prison grounds. Most of the boys from YSC were taken to the second
floor, where they were locked in two-man cells. One boy, C.K., 16 years-old, reported being taken to CYC
and locked in a first-floor cell with two other boys. An OPP staff member on duty at the time told JJPL that
juveniles were also held in Templeman 3.

To date, E. coli levels remain greatly elevated and are much higher than EPA’s recommended levels for
contact. Based on sampling results, emergency responders and the public should avoid direct contact with
standing water when possible. In the event contact occurs, EPA and CDC strongly advise the use of soap
and water to clean exposed areas if available. Flood water should not be swallowed and all mouth contact
should be minimized and avoided where possible. … The most likely symptoms of ingestion of flood water
contaminated with bacteria are stomach-ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, people can become ill if
they have an open cut, wound, or abrasion that comes into contact with water contaminated with certain
organisms. One may experience fever, redness, and swelling at the site of an open wound, and should see a
doctor right away if possible.

The girls, of whom there were between 16-20, were initially brought to a room separated from adult male
prisoners by only a curtain. R.S., a 15 year-old girl, reported there was a gymnasium next to that room. A.G.,
a 13 year-old girl, stated that at some point the girls were brought to a “20 person dorm” room on the second
floor. Though they remained in that room for several days, the girls were never locked in individual cells.

The EPA’s tests showed that there were significantly elevated concentrations of sewage-related bacteria and
fuel oils in and around OPP. The children of OPP were exposed to cancer causing chemicals and deadly
poisons. However, as their stories below reveal, they were oblivious to the dangers of exposure to deadly flood
waters, trying instead to simply survive.

Last Meals: “One boy found some dog snacks.”

A.F., a 16 year-old boy, told JJPL that upon arrival at OPP, he and his companion were first locked in an “open
dorm with about 200 adult inmates.” It was on the first floor. They were the only juveniles in the dorm, as well
as the only whites. A.F. reported being threatened with violence and subsequently moved to a holding cell
with his companion.
The children in OPP ate their last pre-Katrina meals at different times, according to where they were held, but
not one of them reported eating anything after Monday, August 29th. They went without food from anywhere
between three and five days, depending on when and where they were evacuated. Known facts about the
availability of food during the children’s time at OPP are as follows:
• The girls last ate on Sunday, August 28, the night before the storm hit. R.S., a 15 year-old girl, reported
that the meal consisted of stew, with water and milk to drink. They did not eat again until either Wednesday
or Thursday night, when they received a sandwich. One girl reported not eating for “three full days,” while
another estimates the time as “about three days.”
• Half the boys report having eaten for the last time on Sunday night, while the other half report having
had something – most reported eating grits, others a sandwich – on Monday. One boy – B.L., a 17 year-old
– stated he last ate on Saturday, August 27.
• Those boys who ate Sunday night reported eating the same stew as the girls. No one reported eating
between Monday and when they were eventually evacuated.



• Estimates by boys for how long they went without food vary because they were evacuated at different times
to different places. Some simply could not remember how much time passed.
• Three of the boys said guards at OPP had food during and after the storm. T.J., a 17 year-old, reported,
“People’s nerves were very bad. Guards were leaving ... [then] coming back with their own food and eating [it]
in front of [us] without giving us any.” C.K., a 16 year-old, said days after Katrina, once he and other boys were
taken outside OPP, they still had not eaten. Nevertheless, they could “see guards eating. … They had food with
them on the rooftops. When [adult] prisoners tried to take the food, the guards threatened to shoot them.”
• E.G., a 16 year-old boy, reported that another youth – that he identified as Q.R. – found and ate “dog
snacks” during their evacuation from OPP by boat because it had been so long since they last ate anything.
E.F., a 15 year-old boy, stated, “When we got on the boat [to evacuate OPP], [guard] Mo took us (6-9 kids) to
[the Broad Street Bridge]. There was food floating in the water and we tried to catch it and eat it. That’s how
hungry we were.”
• Several boys reported having suffered physical symptoms from hunger. H.J., a 16 year- old, stated, “Guards
kept saying food was coming. Kids were throwing up. ... I was sick and dizzy a lot of the time.” T.G., a 16 yearold, shared, “Kids were going crazy, shaking their cells for food and water...” R.S., a 16 year-old, stated, “We
went five days without eating...Kids were passing out in their cells. The guards never explained anything to
us.” L.H., a 14 year-old, stated “I was sick with hunger and dizzy from the cold. ... No one could help us.” O.S.,
a 14 year-old, said “It was scary. I didn’t know what was going to happen or where my mom was. ... [The kids]
were so weak from no food or water.” K.C., a 16 year-old, stated “[The] youth were hungry, thirsty, tired and
just wanted to go home.”
• Christina Foster, an Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Deputy assigned to the House of Detention (HOD),
acknowledged that OPP had insufficient supplies. “The jail was on complete lockdown. [The inmates] were
told that they couldn’t drink the water because it was contaminated ... So no baths or hand washing. We ran
out of food, so we gave [the adult] inmates a piece of cheese for the whole day. ...”
Heat, Humidity and no Drinking Water: “I felt like I was about to die.”

Just as the Criminal Sheriff ’s Office failed to stockpile enough food to sustain the children locked in OPP for
even 24 hours after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, a comparable shortage of drinking water quickly resulted
in dehydration throughout the facility. With only a few exceptions,63 the boys report not receiving any
drinking water after Monday, August 29. Many of them resorted to drinking the floodwater, which contained
urine and feces from backed-up toilets, as well as unknown toxins.

“When we got on the boat [to evacuate OPP], [guard] Mo took us
(6-9 kids) to [the Broad Street Bridge]. There was food floating in
the water and we tried to catch it and eat it.
That’s how hungry we were.” One boy ate “dog snacks.”

• E.G., a 16 year-old boy, told us “The water ... looked like it had a lot of oil in it. It had rainbows in it and lots
of trash.” A.F., a 16 year-old boy, stated “We were so thirsty, we drank the contaminated water.”
• For those who decided not to drink the floodwater and waited until they were removed from the facility,
there was often no relief for hours, or even days. P.O., a 15 year-old boy, reported he saw a boy get “maced” by
guards when he asked for drinking water while waiting to be evacuated from the Broad Street Bridge.
While reliable temperature data for New Orleans between August 30, 2005 and September 7, 2005 are not
available, we can conclude from data preceding and following the storm that temperatures were in the low
80’s during that time.64
• “It was hot in there,” said O.S., a 14 year-old boy, “I was sweating a lot.” T.G., 16 year-old boy, stated “One kid
passed out from dehydration. ... I started to get really dizzy, like the roadrunner when he gets knocked down,
with the birds flying all around his head. I felt like I was about to die.”
• T.J., a 17 year-old boy, stated, “The power went out at night. The generators went on. I could hear the tile on
the roof coming off. It was very hot inside.”
• E.G., a 16 year-old boy, reported “I had been locked up before, but not behind real bars. We couldn’t do



anything. We had no sheets, no blankets, nothing. It got really hot, people started getting naked and cursing
other people out because they were so hot.”
• R.S., a 15 year-old girl, stated “It was so hot at night we sometimes slept without clothes.” She reported the
girls at OPP received two gallons of drinking water per day to share among 15 – 20 of them. “We got a little
every day.”
With regard to the adult inmate population, Deputy Foster reported that before the facility ran out of water,
“[o]n the seventh floor – mental health – they were passing a trash can filled with water down the tier for the
inmates to drink.”

Flooding: “I can’t seem to get that smell out of my skin.”

• C.S., a 15 year-old boy, “We had human feces floating around us in the water ... we was forced to survive in
for 3 days. I still have little sores on my skin. I can’t seem to get that smell out of my skin. ... [M]aybe it’s all in
my head but that smell will be with me, and be in my head for a very long time.”
The bathroom situation didn’t get any better once a group of boys were removed from their cells and taken
outside. Many of them were forced to spend up to two nights next to OPP’s fishponds, where the facility
reportedly raised fish pre-Katrina. D.B., a 15 year-old boy, told us “I got nothing to eat or drink at the
fishponds, and there were no [toilets]. [Guards] refused to get us drinking water. We couldn’t sleep because
we couldn’t even lie down. We had to go to the bathroom in the floodwater around us.”
Outside: “Everything Was Out of Hand”

Once New Orleans began to flood, the lower levels of OPP were inundated with water. Children held on the
first floor – most, if not all, of whom were detained in CYC prior to Katrina – reported the water rising to a
level of several feet.

The most sustained, direct exposure to toxic floodwaters experienced by the children was during their
evacuation from OPP itself. Depending on their age and size, they had to wade, swim or be carried through the
water. Some of them were taken to boats, which transported them to the Broad Street Bridge. Others went to
the fishponds outside OPP, where they waited for varying amounts of time to be taken to JCY. Many children
said the passage through the waters was one of them most difficult parts of the experience. Summarizing his
experience, T.G., a 16 year-old boy, said during the evacuation, “Everything was out of hand.”

• C.K., a 16 year-old boy, reported “I was locked in my dorm with two other boys until the water was half way
up the wall. ... [We] tried to save our clothes and shoes by keeping them on the top bunk where we sat.”

• P.O., a 15 year-old boy, who was taken by boat to the bridge, recalls the water being “chest high.” P.O. is 5’11”.
D.C., a 15 year-old boy, stated the water was “up to my chin. ... [The] tall adults carried little ones.” D.C. is 6’2”.

• D.B., a 15 year-old boy, stated, “[There were] 50 kids locked up together in Dorm 4. A lot of them were
brought from lockdown. There weren’t enough beds for everyone. The water started rising – it reached
the middle of my thigh – and kids started jumping on the racks [beds]. Kids started to fight once the water
started rising. I got jumped and hit in the eye. R.J. got hit hard in the face and he started bleeding. No one got
any medical care.”

• At 5’6”, C.M., a 16 year-old boy, said the water was “too deep to walk in, and we weren’t given life jackets.”
C.S., a 15 year-old boy, said “It was scary because I can’t swim and they were pulling us by our shirts and I
went under the water a few times. I even swallowed a lot of water. ...”

Inside OPP

• K.C., a 16 year-old boy, told us, “The night of the storm, [we] were placed in some kind of a dorm on the
first floor. There were about 40 of us in the dorm room. The lights went out [and] water started coming in. …
[We] had to get on top of [our] beds to get out of the water.”
• C.M., a 16 year-old boy, stated, “A few hours after the storm hit, the water started rising. That night the
water started coming out of the toilet and the drains. It smelled like straight swamp water. I was crying and
thinking about my people because right before the power went out we saw what was happening on the news
and saw the Ninth Ward flooding. Kids were really upset because most of them were from the Lower Ninth.”
• Children held on the second floor – the majority of them from YSC – reported seeing the water rise below
them. E.G., a 16 year-old boy, said, “The downstairs at Templeman started flooding around 5 [pm]. ... You
could see the water out the window. When the flooding started, the food stopped coming.”
• T.J., a 17 year-old boy, stated, “The guards let us out [of our cells] once to walk around, but then there was a
fight. While I was walking around, I went to the window and looked out. I could see floating trucks. The water
rose for a couple of hours until it hit the stairs. Then we were trapped. ... [E]veryone started panicking.”
The majority of children reported the toilets in OPP backed up, sending human waste into the floodwaters
and filling the facility with an unbearable stench.
• T.G., a 16 year-old boy, shared, “I didn’t leave my cell for two straight days. The toilet backed up and I
covered it with half a mattress, it smelled so bad. Our whole section stank of human waste.”
• E.G., a 16 year-old boy told us, “It stank, stank, stank in there. The toilets were backed up.” C.K., a 16 yearold boy, stated “The toilets were overflowing into the water.”
• O.S., a 14 year-old boy, said, “It smelled dirty because of the toilets. You couldn’t use [them] and they smelled.”


• H.J., a 16 year-old boy, said “All the kids were cuffed and shackled. [The] water was up to my chin. We were
pulled out by rope and guards put us on a boat.” C.M., a 15 year-old boy, reported he and other boys were
“roped together” with “plastic handcuffs on.” The water “was up to [my] neck when [we] were leaving OPP. ...
People who were struggling with the water had help from the guards and the other juveniles.”
• C.K., a 16 year-old boy; C.M., a 15 year-old boy; E.G., a 16 year-old boy; and O.S., a 14 year-old boy; all said
the younger ones got life jackets, while the older ones did not receive any flotation devices. According to C.K.,
the boys were all “chained together” during the evacuation. R.S., a 16 year-old boy, reported seeing smaller
children swimming through the water.
As for the girls, A.G., a 13 year-old girl, reported adult inmates “took a mattress and floated [us] out. [We]
were taken by the mattress to a boat.” R.S., a 15 year-old girl, said, “We walked through the water up to my
mouth. I’m 5’7”. We carried [a] twelve year-old through the water. Guards watched ‘trustees’ [adult inmates]
help us into the boats.”
Clothing and Bathing

Without exception, the children reported no access to showers or clean clothes between their arrival at OPP
and their eventual evacuation – in some instances as long as five days later – to JCY in Baton Rouge. Once at
JCY, they had access to food, water, medical attention and showers.
Upon leaving OPP, all of the children were forced to walk, swim, or be carried through heavily contaminated
floodwater. Because many of them spent long periods of time – up to two nights and three days – waiting outside the
facility even after leaving their dorms and cellblocks, this meant sleeping and traveling in clothes soiled with toxins.
Medical Care

Not one child reported having seen or been attended to by medical personnel during her stay in OPP. Even
if they had received medical training, which is unknown, guards do not appear to have made any attempts
to manage the children’s medical issues, which included minor and major injuries, shortages of medication,
and chronic health problems. R.S., a 16 year-old boy, reported injured children were put in separate cells after
youth-on-youth fights, but staff made no attempts to deal with their wounds. Excluding symptoms associated


with dehydration and hunger noted above, the following facts are known about medical conditions that arose
after Katrina hit. Those that arose after the children’s arrival at JCY are noted:
• Two of the girls held in OPP were pregnant at the time. According to R.S., a 15 year-old girl; and A.G.,
a 13 year-old girl, the pregnant girls received no medical attention at all. Whether their pregnancies were
subsequently affected by the events at OPP is unknown.

In this climate of anxiety and uncertainty, guards, police and possibly military personnel used violence and
threats of violence against both children and adults in an attempt to maintain order – often terrifying and
sometimes injuring the children in their care. Reported incidents include:
• C.K., a 16 year-old boy, was hit in the face multiple times by a guard during his stay in OPP. He also saw
children threatened by guards at gunpoint – “with guns raised to their heads.”66

• D.B., a 15 year-old boy, was hit in the eye by another boy, sustaining injury. A cut on his leg became
infected. His skin became covered in spots on his legs from the water. After evacuation, D.B. was put on
antibiotics for 10 days by a doctor at another facility. D.B. also saw “a white kid ... have a seizure and pass out.”

• R.S., a 15 year-old girl; and T.G., a 16 year-old boy, reported that on the bus from Broad Street Bridge to
JCY, post-evacuation, “one girl got beaten by a guard for fighting with another girl” and removed. The girl was
taken to a van. T.G. said the guard used “closed fists.”

• K.C., a 16 year-old boy, received bruises on various parts of his body from getting “jumped” by other boys.

• O.S., a 14 year-old boy, stated once they arrived at the Broad Street Bridge, the children were threatened by
armed, uniformed officers whom O.S. believed were from the New Orleans Police Department. “They had big
guns. ... They told us that the mayor said ‘We can shoot to kill.’ There was military there, too, but it was mostly
NOPD. NOPD beat up an adult prisoner. They busted open his head. ... You could see the meat.”

• E.F., a 15 year-old boy, had a bloody nose, swollen eye and “busted lip” from getting “beat up” by other
children. After leaving OPP, his feet “turned all white, with mildew and sores on them. I was throwing up
blood ... My feet are still messed up and still itching. My face is better.” E.F. also witnessed a boy – nicknamed
“17” – receive injuries from getting hit “with a phone.”
• T.J., a 17 year-old boy, had “beaucoup bumps” on his face post-evacuation and a wound that became
infected. He was put on antibiotics and painkillers once he arrived at JCY.
• C.K., 16 year-old boy, witnessed a boy get his jaw broken by another child. The boy reportedly spit out
some of his teeth after being beaten. C.K. himself was hit in the face multiple times by a guard and was
inadvertently sprayed with mace. C.K. also experienced severe sunburn – to the point that “skin was peeling
off ” – as a result of exposure after being taken outside OPP.
• R.S., a 16 year-old boy, got a “busted” nose, split lip and swollen eye from a fight.
• C.S., a 15 year-old boy, went “under the [flood] water” a few times during the evacuation. As a result, he said
he was “very ill for about three weeks.”
• A.F., a 16 year-old boy, reported being sunburned “from his knees up” while waiting to be evacuated. He
also got some type of “fungus” on his feet from exposure to the water. A.F. witnessed many fights between
boys and a lot of adults getting “maced.”
Guards Abandoning Post

At least four boys and one girl witnessed staff at OPP abandon the facility during and after the storm:
• A.G., a 13 year-old girl, reported YSC staff left OPP during the storm.

• E.G., a 16 year-old boy, observed upon arriving at the Broad Street Bridge, “[T]here were military there in
brown [uniforms]. They ‘handled’ a few kids and were screaming at them. They handled them by pushing
them around, ‘slamming’ them. ... One [officer] told us that because of the situation, they could ‘kill them for
nothing.’ If a kid would as much as talk to another kid, they would snatch him up and move him.”
• T.J., a 17 year-old boy, stated, “Guards told [us] while [we] were being evacuated, ‘You’re not juveniles no more.
You are in an adult jail. If you move the wrong way, we’re gonna shoot you.” T.J. also recalls, “One man was
maced and beat up really badly. His head was busted. ... They let the dogs loose on that man. ... The dogs were
biting him all over. They told people they would kill them if they moved. ... The worst thing I saw was the guards
beating that man while everyone was just sitting there. ... Those people need to go to jail or something.”
• C.M., a 15 year-old boy, said guards pointed their guns at children’s heads, threatening to shoot them if they
moved. When adults tried to escape, if the guards found them, they would take them to Broad Street Bridge
and beat them. “I saw [an adult] with his head beat in.” Once “on the bus,” presumably to JCY, officers C.M.
called “the feds” threatened “to gas the bus.”
• C.M., a 16 year-old boy, said “The youth were shackled the entire time [during the evacuation]... [We] were
handcuffed during all of this, too. When [we] were shackled it was ten youth shackled together. G.T. (another
boy) slipped out his handcuffs so they maced him and since they were all shackled together, the other kids
basically got maced too.” C.M., a 16 year-old boy, also observed a death on the bridge, “One man died on the
[Broad Street Bridge] and the guards took him by his arms and legs...and threw him off the bridge into the
water. ... [He] may have been dead, but they could have treated him with more respect.”

• C.K., a 16 year-old boy, told us many guards “quit and left [us] locked in [our] cells.”

• P.O., a 15 year-old boy, stated “[The] guards did not really care about us. [One] kid got maced requesting
water. Some kids were too weak to act, or do anything for themselves.”

• K.C., a 16 year-old boy, said, “On Monday [August 29], at least six guards just walked out. Colonel Weaver,
Captain Keith and Mr. More stayed.”

• E.F., a 15 year-old boy, stated “The guards had dogs [on the Broad Street Bridge] and some inmates got bit
and started jumping off the bridge. One dude passed out...”

• C.M., a 16 year-old boy, stated “At first the guards acted like nothing was going to happen and then a bunch
of people quit, leaving only 3-4 guards for all 32 kids [in my section].”

Arriving at JCY

Guard Violence: “The Mayor Said We Can Shoot to Kill”

As conditions at OPP deteriorated, the remaining guards became increasingly desperate. Deputy Foster put it
this way, “As the storm approached, [things became] chaotic. No one gave any orders. Everyone said, ‘I think
we need to do this, I think we need to do that.’ Deputies were running the jail...” After days had gone by and
the OPP evacuation finally began, “[D]eputies were maintaining security for inmates, families, and civilians.
[We] were all thirsty, suffering from heatstroke, starvation, frustration with the Sheriff ... [When adult]
inmates tried to take the [Broad Street Bridge], [we] had to threaten lethal force...”


Once the children arrived at JCY, a facility operated by OYD, the majority reported that conditions improved
substantially. They were fed, allowed to bathe, given clean clothes and – for the most part – medical
attention. C.M., a 15 year-old boy, said, “[At JCY] we got food and water. We were treated very nicely.” T.G.
(16 year-old boy) made it clear that the children did not have to wait for attention at JCY. Care was delivered
“immediately.” D.B., a 15 year-old boy, recalled seeing a nurse at JCY.
According to staff at JCY who helped receive the evacuated Orleans children, the children were at different
levels of distress. Dr. Heidi Sinclair, a pediatrician, told us she encountered, “One 10 year-old with broken
arm, one girl pregnant, one girl with child in foster care. … [Children] told stories of chest-high water


and floating bodies. … A few kids passed out from heat exhaustion. … Six employees from YSC … were
completely traumatized, vowing to never go back to New Orleans.” Dr. Sinclair continued, “ [We] kept boys
in the infirmary with health problems, then put half in JCY and half in other places; some of the kids broke
down crying when they were forced to be moved.”
Psychological Impact: “Until I’m Dead and Gone”

While none of the children interviewed for this Report has provided a psychological or psychiatric evaluation
to JJPL, children’s comments indicate the impact of the OPP evacuation will prove substantial and enduring.
Some of the children have attempted to forget about the entire episode, choosing not to think about it.
Others, such as K.C., a 16 year-old boy, continue to suffer from nightmares and anxiety.
C.K., a 16 year-old boy, did not admit he was scared, but at one point said, “I am a tough dude, but I....” He did
not finish the sentence. E.G., a 16 year-old boy, put it this way: “You wouldn’t want to [have been] in there. It
felt like your last days. It was not right at all.” C.M., a 15 year-old boy, who shared he is “affected” but would
not elaborate, said simply: “We were treated like trash in New Orleans.” O.S., a 14 year-old boy, continues to
think about it and remains angry about the way the children were treated. R.S., a 16 year-old boy, described
himself as saddened by the event, and continues to think about it. C.M., a 16 year-old boy, stated “it bothers”
him, so he doesn’t think about it.
The mother of K.C., a 16 year-old boy, reported her son “is having a hard time but getting better.” She began
looking for a psychiatrist in the area where they have relocated, but “has just been overwhelmed with looking
for a place to live.” She described herself as “very angry and upset about what happened to [my] son,” but is
“exhausted right now” and thus “not necessarily in a place to work with others on this.”
C.S., a 15 year-old boy, was the most candid of those interviewed: “[I]t was a horrible experience and I would never
want to go through that again and I know this will have a long-term effect on me until I am dead and gone.”

Where From Here? Best Practices
As the “keeper” of OPP, Sheriff Gusman clearly bore responsibility for the safety of the thousands of men and
children confined there in the days and hours before Katrina hit New Orleans. He must answer for the belated
and ultimately evacuation that unfolded. Yet it was presumably not Gusman’s decision alone to “evacuate”
children from YSC and elsewhere Parish to OPP. Nor was it likely his sole decision to keep CYC’s juvenile
population in the facility during the storm. It would be too simple to blame the Sheriff’s Office alone for this web
of decision-making. The stories of these children are the product of institutional failure, failure which itself was
the byproduct of a broken juvenile justice system. If, before Hurricane Katrina, Orleans parish had supported
viable alternatives, resulting in fewer children being detained in the first place, held youth in smaller, more
therapeutic – less prison-like – facilities, and based the operation of its detention facilities on sound, researchbased principles, many of the children highlighted in this report would not have suffered.
A New Detention System

“Of the many troubling facts about pretrial juvenile detention perhaps the most disturbing one is that many
incarcerated youth should not be there at all. These are the kids who pose little risk of committing a new offense
before their court date or failing to appear for court – the two authorized purposes of juvenile detention.”67
The nationally accepted purpose of juvenile detention is twofold:
1. To hold a youth who is awaiting a hearing because of the strong belief that he or she may commit new
crimes before the hearing. This belief is based on a number of factors, including the severity of the alleged
offense and a youth’s previous contact with the legal system.
2. To ensure that the youth will show up in court at the appointed time.68
Prior to Katrina, Orleans Parish detained a large number of youth simply because we had no viable
alternatives, not because they posed a threat to public safety or represented a risk of not appearing for court.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice reports that 24% of youth in detention in the United States are held for
violations of probation, parole or a court order, and 26% are held for property crimes.69 While no data is
available, there is no reason to believe Orleans parish is any different.
Ideally, only youth who are serious repeat offenders or who are arrested for violent offenses would be held
in juvenile detention. It would benefit the youth and community to work with school systems to ensure that
schools are not referring youth to the police for incidents that can be handled by the school or community.
Youth can be treated within their communities through a number of programs. By locking a youth in
detention, especially an overcrowded detention center, the risks for suicidal behavior and psychiatric illnesses
are increased.70 Furthermore, youth are removed from many of the safety nets that help them cope such as
school, positive relationships, family and community supports, in addition to removing them from school.71 It
has been shown that treating most youth in their communities does not compromise public safety and may in
fact help to improve it by reducing recidivism.72
The City of New Orleans must fix our broken detention system first by viewing detention as a process rather than
a place. Detention as a process refers to graduated levels of supervision and considers custody an act rather than a
physical placement. This concept moves detention beyond the notion of a single building and instead embraces a wide
variety of services in the community, a continuum of care. Detention as a process opens the door to more alternatives
and allows officials to be more flexible, assigning levels of supervision to fit the particularized needs of each child.
HOW TO GET THERE Research and Planning

First – before any reform can begin – there is always a crucial planning stage. Certain measures must occur
prior to any positive reform taking place. It is important that accurate data be collected on the youth that
will be involved in the detention system. This information must be collected in order to develop an accurate
foundation for any future reform.
Second, all stakeholders must be included in the planning process; this includes public and private agencies. These
stakeholders include Juvenile Court, police, probation, prosecutors, defense attorneys, schools, public agencies
serving youth, local elected officials, community-based service providers, residential care providers and youth advocacy


groups. In the planning process, the focus should be on creating a range of detention options that include alternatives to
detention. This allows youth to be placed in the most appropriate setting as not all youth are appropriate for secure care.73
Many of the problems with the detention system stem from overcrowding. This is a common scenario in detention
systems across the country. Overcrowding can affect the amount a food available for youth, their access to hygiene,
recreation and education as well as medical and mental health services.73 It also makes keeping the facility clean
and properly functioning more difficult and changes the staff to youth ratio. While simply addressing the issue of
overcrowding will not solve all the problems, it will begin to make solving other problems a bit easier. By embracing
the concept of detention as a process and developing effective alternatives to detention, Orleans Parish can begin to
address overcrowding and avoid the ominous task of evacuating or caring for 150 adolescents. It is very important
to ensure that when developing alternatives we are not simply widening the net and involving youth in the juvenile
justice system who would have not been involved prior to alternatives. These alternatives should be accessible and
relevant to the youth they are meant to serve and designed upon the concept of least restrictive setting. In short, a
detention system needs to use common sense to avoid criminalizing normal adolescent behavior.
PROVEN MODELS The Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides systems with
support in reducing their reliance on incarceration. JDAI has four objectives: 1) to eliminate the inappropriate
or unnecessary use of secure detention; 2) to minimize failures to appear and the incidence of delinquent
behavior; 3) to redirect public finances from building new facility capacity to responsible alternative
strategies; and 4) to improve conditions in secure detention facilities.74
JDAI recommends three basic program models for alternatives to detention.
1. Community Detention


The first program model is home or community detention. Home detention relies on low caseloads and
frequent, unannounced, in person supervision. Staff can increase or decrease the youth’s supervision level
depending upon behavior. Youth are subject to a strict curfew and are limited to pre-approved activities
outside the home such as church and school.

In a cash strapped post-Katrina New Orleans, all government agencies
are searching for ways to save money. Embracing detention as a
process ensures our scarce tax dollars are used effectively. Not only
would this new practice save the city money, it also results in a safer
public and more humane treatment of our youth.


2. Day and Evening Reporting Centers

Day and Evening reporting centers are another effective alternative that have shown success in other
jurisdictions. Many youth who participate in day reporting are not enrolled in school and therefore have a
lot of idle time. Youth can participate in educational and recreational activities at the centers. The evening
reporting centers are usually for the hours between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. It is important to note that these
centers are providing intensive supervision and are not day treatment centers.
3. Residential Supervision

The third alternative is residential supervision. This program model is for youth who require 24-hour
supervision in order to be released from secure detention or for those youth who have no suitable home
placement available. This program model is also referred to as “shelter care” or “non-secure detention.” While
shelter care will have locks on the doors and windows, it is highly dependent on intensive staff supervision.
For example, in New York City’s non-secure detention, Youth are supervised by staff 24 hours a day, seven
days a week with an ideal staff to youth ratio of 6 to 1.75 Youth receive education, recreation, tutoring and
other life skills training. Youth should not remain in shelter care for longer than 30 days.76
An array of alternatives, with humane secure detention only for those youth where alternatives are inappropriate,
help keep the public safe and ensure youth appear for their court dates. Alternatives to detention cost far less
than secure detention. For example, in New York City the cost to hold one youth in secure detention is $358 a day
whereas the cost for one youth in an alternative to secure detention is between $16-24 a day. In Tarrant County,
Texas it costs $121 a day per youth and alternatives to detention cost about $3.50 a day for electronic monitoring
and $30-35 a day for intensive supervision. The average cost of operating one detention bed in the United States for
one year is $36,487.77 Multiply that by the number of youth who cycle through the system each year and the cost is
staggering. In a cash strapped post-Katrina New Orleans, all government agencies are searching for ways to save
money. Embracing detention as a process ensures our scarce tax dollars are used effectively. Not only would this
new practice save the city money, it also results in a safer public and more humane treatment of our youth. •

1. The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) is a statewide nonprofit advocacy organization based in New
Orleans and dedicated to reforming Louisiana’s broken juvenile justice system. JJPL’s mission is to transform the
juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure
children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. Since 1997, when JJPL first opened its doors, JJPL
has worked to reform Louisiana’s juvenile justice system by improving conditions and treatment for incarcerated
youth, improving legal advocacy for indigent youth accused and adjudicated of crimes and expanding communitybased alternatives to incarceration.
2. In 1998, JJPL sued the state of Louisiana on behalf of incarcerated children. In conjunction with the United
States Department of Justice (DOJ) and a law firm in Baton Rouge, JJPL charged the state with committing a wide
range of civil and human rights abuses against Louisiana’s incarcerated children. Brian B., et al. v. Stalder, et al., CA
No. 98-886-B-M1 (M.D. La. 1998) (consolidated with Williams v. McKeithen, No. 71-98-B (M.D. La. 1971) and U.S. v.
Louisiana, No. 98-947-B-1 (M.D. La. 1998).
3. Bridge City Center for Youth (BCCY), the third juvenile prison operated by OYD, is located in the New Orleans
Metropolitan Area. OYD evacuated children and youth from BCCY at least two days prior to the storm making
landfall in New Orleans and placed them at Jetson Center for Youth (JCY).
4. Recognizing the need for cooperation between JJPL and OYD, Judge Mark Doherty, acting under emergency
authority and as Chief Judge of Orleans Juvenile Court, appointed JJPL to represent the evacuated youth on
September 14, 2005, ordering:
The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana is hereby appointed to represent all juveniles currently being held by the
Department of Public Safety & Corrections who were evacuated from the Youth Studies Center in New Orleans
and the Juvenile Unit of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff [CYC], for the limited purpose of determining the
whereabouts of their nearest relatives in order to present that information to the Department and to the Court at a
special hearing to be set for that purpose.
Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declared in an emergency order that the all Orleans parish courts are
closed on “court holiday” until October 25, 2005 and the Louisiana Supreme Court issued an order closing until
November 28, 2005.
5. Giles Whittell, “Warnings Were Loud and Clear — but Still City Drowned,” September 8, 2005, The Times Online
(London), available at:,,23889-1770245,00.html.
6. “New Orleans Braces for Monster Hurricane,” August, 29, 2005,, available at: http://www.cnn.
7. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004,” April, 2005,
p. 10, available at:
8. We estimate the number of evacuated children to be near 150, based on documents made available to us by the
Office of Youth Development through the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court. As of the release of this report, we have
been unable to confirm the exact number of children confined at OPP during and after Katrina.
9. In the juvenile justice system, the word “adjudicated” has the same meaning as “convicted” in the adult context.
10. For clarity’s sake, this Report refers to children by their ages as of August 28, 2005.
11. We sent requests for public records to the Orleans Parish Criminal Sherrif’s Office on April 3, 2006 and the City
of New Orleans on March 29, 2006. The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff operates CYC, and the City of New Orleans
operates YSC. We did not receive answers to our requests.
12. Fox Butterfield, Justice Besieged: New Orleans Juvenile Court System is Called Nation’s Most Troubled, New
York Times, July 22, 1997, A1.
13. Sasha Polokow-Suransky, I Plead the Sixth, American Prospect, August 12, 2002, p. 18.
14. Doe v. Foti No. 93-1227 (E.D. La.).
15. See Williams, et al v. McKeithen, et al, CA No. 71-98-B (M.D. La. 1997) (available at Hamilton Plaintiffs v. Williams
Plaintiffs, 147 F.3d 367 (5th Cir. 1998).
16. See La. Ch.C. art. 801(B).
17. Interviews were conducted between June 19 – June 24, 2002. Documentation is retained by JJPL.
18. Interviews were conducted by JJPL staff on April 22, 2002. Documentation is retained by JJPL.
19. These testimonials were taken from girls housed in YSC in April 2002.
20. Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, Orleans Parish: People & Household Characteristics (based on
data from 2000), available at:
21. This figure was calculated based on data from the South White Street’s Juvenile Alternative School, an OPPbased facility. Out of 156 children attending South White Street (all of whom were, by necessity, incarcerated in
OPP at the time), 154 were African-American.
22. Youth Study Center, Annual Report, 1999.
23. April 5, 2006 interview with Former Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Deputy, Tyrone Davis.
24. Jeffrey L, Pierson, “New Jersey jail benefits from emergency evacuation exercise,” Corrections Today, Vol. 65,
Issue 4, p. 86 (July 1, 2003).
25. Richard A. Webster, “New Orleans Prison’s Future in Question” New Orleans City Business, December 19, 2005,
available at:
26. See e.g. Eric Berger, “Keeping Its Head Above Water: New Orleans Faces Doomsday Scenario,” Houston
Chronicle, A 29, December 1, 2001, available at:

3352630 (“New Orleans is sinking. And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is
quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster. So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this
year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the
three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.”)(emphasis added); In October, 2001, Scientific
American quoted Jefferson Parish emergency management director Walter Maestri as saying: “Any water that
comes into this city is a dangerous threat. Even though I have to plan for it, I don’t even want to think about
the loss of life a huge hurricane would cause.” Eric Berger, “Keeping Its Head Above Water: New Orleans Faces
Doomsday Scenario,” Houston Chronicle, A 29, December 1, 2001; Lori Widmer, “The Lost City of New Orleans?”,
Risk and Insurance, No. 15, Vol. 11, p. 38, December 1, 2000 (“New research by the U.S. Geological Survey…indicates
that New Orleans is sinking faster than many realize and could be under water within 50 years. The city is facing
a series of issues – disappearing wetlands that protect from hurricanes, levees that are too low to hold back flood
waters, rising water tables, to name a few – that if not addressed soon could have New Orleans suffering the same
fate as Atlantis.”); Dan Gilgoff, “Big Blow in the Big Easy,” U.S. News & World Report, July 18, 2005 (Director of
Louisiana State University’s Center for the Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, said, “If a hurricane comes next
month, New Orleans could no longer exist;” American Red Cross “ranked the prospect of a hurricane’s hitting New
Orleans as the country’s deadliest natural disaster threat, with up to 100,000 dead.”); see also Raymond Burby et
al, “Unleashing the Power of Planning to Create Disaster-Resistant Communities,” Journal of the American Planning
Association, No. 3, Vol. 65, p. 247, July 22, 1999.
27. The Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan was produced by GCR and Associates, Inc., 2021 Lakeshore Drive, New
Orleans, LA 70122. It is available at:
28. See “City of New Orleans Hazard Mitigation Plan Kick-Off Meeting,” minutes, April 9, 2003, available at: http://
29. The organizations represented on the Mitigation Team were: City of New Orleans Office of Emergency
Preparedness, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, New Orleans City Planning Commission, New Orleans
Fire Department, New Orleans Police Department, Orleans Levee District, Regional Planning Commission, New
Orleans Regional Chamber of Commerce, UNO, Delgado Community College West Bank Campus, LSU Cooperative
Extension Service, Historic District Landmarks Commission, Vieux Carre Commission, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers,
New Orleans District, American Red Cross, City Park Improvement Association, Gentilly/Sugar Hill Residents’
Association, English Turn Neighborhood Association, ComputerCC, Green Fields Real Estate.
30. GCR and Associates, Inc., “Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan,” p. 13, available at:
ThePlan.htm. The map is available at
31. GCR and Associates, Inc., “Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan,” p. 9. A repetitive loss structure is defined as a
structure covered by flood insurance that has incurred flood-related damages at least twice in a ten-year period,
for which the cost of repairing the damage was at least 25 percent of the market value of the structure at the time
of the flood event.
32. Id. at 10-11.
33. Id. at 11.
34. Id. at 13.
35. GCR and Associates, Inc., “Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan,” p. 14.
36. Id. at 15.
37. “One of the heaviest rain events in Orleans Parish in recent history occurred May 8-9, 1995. During this storm,
as much as 17 inches of rain fell in parts of Orleans Parish over a 48-hour period. Four people drowned in this flood
and one person died of a heart attack as a result of pushing his flooded car. Ultimately, $388 million in damages
were documented in New Orleans. Actual damages likely exceeded this amount. A breakdown of damages shows
how wide-spread the devastation from this flood was: City buildings suffered an estimated $1 million in damages;
Touro Hospital closed temporarily on May 8 as a result of the flooding; Charity Hospital, Mercy + Baptist Medical
Center, Tulane Medical Center, and United Medical Center each suffered damages ranging from $50,000 to $250
million; Orleans Parish Prison had to move 750 inmates to the Louisiana State Penitentiary; public schools suffered
an estimated $9 million in damages; 46 of 124 public schools incurred some damage; 11 public schools remained
closed through at least May 12; early estimates showed that between 10,000 and 30,000 housing units were
damaged.” GCR and Associates, Inc., “Orleans Parish Mitigation Plan,” p. 8, available at: http://hazardmitigation.
38. Transcript of CNN Coverage of Press Conference, Aug. 28, 2005, available at:
39. Ultimate responsibility for the mainenance of parish jails and prisons lies with the parish itself: “The governing
authority of each parish shall be responsible for the physical maintenance of all parish jails and prisons. In those
parishes in which the governing authority operates the parish jail the governing authority shall pass all bylaws and
regulations they may deem expedient for the police and good government of the jails and prisons being operated
by the parish governing authority.” LSA- R.S. 15:702
40. LSA-R.S. 15:704.
41. LSA-R.S. 15:705(A) (1).
42. LSA-R.S. 15:706(A) (1).
43. Letter from Joe Cook, Esq., to Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, dated Septemeber 21, 2005.
44. See ACLU, “Sheriff Illegally Withholding Records on Orleans Parish Prison, ACLU Lawsuit Charges”
(11/10/2005), available at:
45. See id.



46. Id.
47. Id.
48. American Correctional Association, Winter Conference Recap, “Emergency Evacuations of Correctional
Facilities,” available at
49. ACA “Vision Statement” available at:
50. Note 48, supra.
51. Id.
52. Id.
53. Jeffrey L, Pierson, “New Jersey jail benefits from emergency evacuation exercise,” Corrections Today, Vol. 65,
Issue 4, p. 86 (July 1, 2003).
54. Id.
55. Sampling performed and analyzed under contract to U.S. EPA and reported on the EPA Enviromapper: http://, Accessed April 17, 2006.
56. E. coli is considered to be a marker for the presence of other bacteria “such as those that cause typhoid,
dysentery, hepatitis A, and cholera” See, Accessed April 20, 2006.
57. See Note 55, supra.
58. See Note 56, supra.
59. Id.
60. See, accessed April 20, 2006.
61. This section describes what happened to detained children in Orleans Parish as Hurricane Katrina slammed
into New Orleans. Direct quotations from children and staff members are used wherever possible. The stories are
arranged in topical order. Because the experience of each child depended on his detention center of origin and
where he ended up within OPP, we attempt – wherever possible – to note those differences.
62. Transcript of CNN Coverage of Press Conference, Aug. 28, 2005, available at:
TRANSCRIPTS/0508/28/bn.04.html; New Orleans Times Picayune, “Hurricane Katrina - the Approaching Storm,”
Web Edition, August 28, 2005; Baton Rouge Advocate, “Disaster Response Records, Interviews Reveal Some of
Why Storm Relief Took So Long,” p. 1, News, October 23, 2005.
63. Exceptions include: E.G., a 16 year-old boy, last received drinking water on Wednesday; D.C., a 15 year-old boy,
received some drinking water, but could not say when; P.O., a 15 year-old boy, received water “on Tuesday only”;
K.C., a 16 year-old boy, stated, “Captain Keith had a water bottle and let each of us have a sip... [He] was the only
guard who would do anything for us.”
64. Average daily temperatures in New Orleans: 8/21/2005: 85.3; 8/22/2005: 84.0; 8/23/2005: 84.7; 8/24/2005:
83.8; 8/25/2005: 85.5; 8/26/2005: 86.1; 8/27/2005: 86.7; 8/28/2005: 85.4; 8/29/2005: 80.7; 9/8/2005: 82.6;
9/9/2005: 82.7; 9/10/2005: 82.7; 9/11/2005: 81.3; 9/12/2005: 80.7; 9/13/2005:80.3; 9/14/2005: 80.8; 9/15/2005:
82.9. University of Dayton, “Average Daily Temperature Archive,” available at:
65. It is not known whether this was in OPP or on the Broad Street Bridge. C.K.’s recollection is more consistent
with other reports from the bridge.
66. Juvenile Jailhouse Rocked. Available at
67. Unlocking the Future: Detention Reform in the Juvenile Justice System, Coalition for Juvenile Justice Reform,
2003 Annual Report.
68. Id.
69. Planning for Juvenile Detention Reform: A Structured Approach. Available at
70. Unlocking the Future.
71. Juvenile Crime, Juvenile Justice (2001); Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
(Executive Summary). Available at
72. Note 67, supra.
73. Id.
74. Id.
75. Consider the alternatives: Planning and Implementing Detention Alternatives. Available at
initiatives/jdai/download.htm, at p. 21.
76. See id. at 22.
77. Note 75, supra.


juvenile justice project of louisiana

This report would not have been possible without the involvement of some remarkable advocates who in spite
of all their other work and their own personal lives were relentless in supporting the Juvenile Justice Project
in this endeavor. Rather than shrink from the challenges of a post-Katrina New Orleans, they have embraced
them and optimistically look disaster straight in the eye.
JJPL is especially indebted to our children, our clients. These young men and women told their stories and
allowed us a window into their lives in an effort to influence the lives of others. We also are thankful to the
many staff members and experts of varying agencies who spoke with us, despite fear and personal sacrifice.
We are also thankful to the hard work of those individuals who assisted with editing, revising and researching
this report. A special thanks is necessary to Tom Jawetz and Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties
Union, National Prison Project; the entire staff of Safe Streets/Strong Communities; Lauren Russell, JJPL
Legal Intern; the staff of the Louisiana Office of Youth Development, we won’t forget how you helped
our children; the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, your leadership was essential; and Valerie Downes at the
Southern Poverty Law Center for her graphical genius.
Finally, for nearly nine months, we here in New Orleans have been trying to find our way back home
– literally and figuratively. In many ways, New Orleans will never be the same. With this report, all involved
hope that nostalgia gives way to change and reform. We enthusiastically hope to see in New Orleans’ future
unrecognizable institutions and landscapes manifesting our community’s desire for better lives and more
opportunities for ourselves, our families and our children. To everyone hard at work on this new reality, we
say “Thank you.”


Derwyn D. Bunton, Associate Director
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana


Juvenile Detention in New Orleans Before,
During, and After Hurricane Katrina

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
1600 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
New Orleans, Louisiana 70113




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