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After

Washed Away?
KATRINA Justice
in New Orleans
Research Report
August 2007

URBAN INSTITUTE
Justice Policy Center
Caterina Gouvis Roman
Seri Irazola
Jenny W.L. Osborne

After Katrina: Two Years Later
Over the past two years, Urban Institute
researchers have made the ongoing
impact of and recovery from Hurricane
Katrina one of the Institute’s primary
focuses. At the second anniversary of
Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast
region, where do we stand? For a
complete list of UI papers and
publications related to Katrina, please
visit our web site:
http://www.urban.org/afterKatrina. For
recent work, see http://www.urban.org/
afterkatrina/2yearslater.
This research report provides the first
comprehensive published review of the
acute and lasting impact of Hurricane
Katrina on the criminal justice system of
New Orleans. We discuss the state of
affairs before the storm, the impact of the
storm on each branch, and the current
conditions. We also take a look at the
lessons learned with regard to the
criminal justice system—lessons relevant
beyond the Gulf Coast that can assist
jurisdictions around the country should
they be confronted with natural or manmade shocks to the systems keeping
residents safe.
This report is based on interviews with
dozens of criminal justice stakeholders
living and working in the greater New
Orleans area, coupled with an extensive
review of published and unpublished
documents.
Any opinions expressed are those of the
authors and do not necessarily reflect the
views of the Urban Institute, its board, or
its sponsors.

As the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the news media continues to
document high levels of violence and disorder across New Orleans neighborhoods.
Stories document with regularity a criminal justice system in disarray1—homicide
suspects freed due to constitutional violations of due process, arrested suspects awaiting
trial for months without seeing a lawyer, police investigators working out of trailers, and
a court backlog of thousands of cases. With the seemingly endless barrage of media
highlighting the disorganization, it becomes difficult for the public to sort through
rhetoric and hyperbole and grasp the current state of New Orleans’s criminal justice
system. Did Hurricane Katrina wash away the criminal justice system, as some have
asserted (Garrett and Tetlow 2006)? Has the multiagency system emerged from the
disarray? Which components remain neglected? Where has progress been made? This
report attempts to shed light on public safety and the administration of justice in New
Orleans and surrounding jurisdictions; to separate fact from fiction; and to document the
impact Hurricane Katrina had on public safety and the criminal justice system. We focus
predominantly on Orleans Parish, which makes up the city of New Orleans, and on
criminal justice agencies operating within Orleans Parish.
It is not a secret that, before Katrina, the New Orleans criminal justice system had
long been plagued with inefficiencies and structural barriers that interfered with the fair
administration of justice. Before Katrina, almost all criminal justice system agencies in
New Orleans faced substantial funding problems and had been repeatedly criticized for
weak management. Under the administration of an often poorly functioning criminal
justice system, New Orleans was considered one of the most violent cities in the
country.
The aftermath of the hurricane has provided and continues to provide a unique
opportunity for criminal justice stakeholders to assess and reassess the situation as the
city repairs the damages—damages due to Katrina and damages from before Katrina. The
lessons learned from Katrina have relevance beyond the Gulf Coast in that they can assist
jurisdictions around the country should
they be confronted with natural or manmade shocks to the systems that are
devoted to keeping residents safe.
For readers not well versed in the
vernacular of criminal justice, the criminal
justice system is a multicomponent system,
primarily made up of three parts—police,
courts,
and
corrections—together
designed to maintain social control, deter
and control crime, and punish those guilty
of violating the law. Courts and
corrections each have their own
subsections—prosecutors,
defense
attorneys, and judges are responsible for
the administration of justice through the
court system. Corrections consists of
institutional corrections (i.e., prisons and
jails) and community corrections (i.e.,
parole and probation) for those under
state or local supervision but serving their
sentences outside institutions.

state emergency preparedness plan stipulates that officers
cannot respond to calls when winds exceed 55 m.p.h.
Because winds had reached this level the day before,
officers had already been directed to relocate to prestaged locations to weather the storm. After the levees
were breached, flood waters isolated roughly 300 NOPD
police officers, who were now unable to assist the
department in rescue efforts. Eighty off-duty officers were
stranded in their homes and another 147 officers
abandoned their positions (Riley 2006).

In this report, we provide the first comprehensive
published review of the acute and lasting impact of
Hurricane Katrina on the criminal justice system of New
Orleans. We examine each branch and subcomponent of
the criminal justice system by discussing the situation
before the storm, the impact of the storm on each branch,
and the current conditions. The final sections of this report
discuss policy considerations and recommendations for the
New Orleans criminal justice system to continue its
progress and for other jurisdictions that might face similar
predicaments in the future. As this report shows, to find
order after a catastrophe, public safety must be a priority
before disaster hits and remain a priority in the aftermath.
The same characteristics that enable an effective and
efficient criminal justice system during routine operations
will enable a system to function during and after disaster.
We hope this report spurs increased dialogue and action
not only among federal, state, and local policymakers, but
among all criminal justice stakeholders—including
practitioners, community residents, local civic leaders, and
young scholars studying innovative strategies for increasing
public safety and the equitable administration of justice.

In addition to the limited manpower available for
search and rescue, the lack of suitable rescue equipment
was a key problem in the hours and days following the
storm. The water flooded police district stations, including
the main headquarters, and hundreds of vehicles. Published
accounts estimate only three department boats were
available to the officers as rescue vehicles (Riley 2006).
Other officers used their own personal boats. Roughly a
third of the department’s patrol cars were stolen or
destroyed by flooding.
Communication blackouts further diminished NOPD
capacities and law enforcement efforts in surrounding
parishes. In the city of New Orleans, the storm surge
destroyed one communications tower and flood waters
damaged another two. In St. Bernard Parish, winds downed
the communications towers and antennas, and buildings
housing communications for the fire and sheriff’s
departments were evacuated. In Plaquemines Parish, both
the parish communications tower and communications
center were destroyed, and 911 communications were lost
for at least three weeks. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s
Office also lost their main communications tower
(Dowden 2006).

This report is the result of a year-long study. We
interviewed representatives of criminal justice agencies in
Orleans, Jefferson, and Plaquemines Parishes, including law
enforcement officials from the New Orleans metropolitan
area police departments and parish sheriffs’ offices,
lawyers, judges, and magistrates, as well as representatives
from community foundations and consultants working to
increase public safety across all neighborhoods impacted by
the storm. We also talked to representatives from federal
law enforcement agencies. In addition to telephone and inperson interviews, we reviewed hundreds of published and
unpublished documents and news accounts on the criminal
justice system before and after the hurricane.

The metropolitan area had to rely on voice radio
using only a few mutual aid channels during the hurricane
and in its aftermath. The system that provided operational
communications across the four parishes and state and
federal agencies was also damaged, leaving no mechanism
for regional communication during the storm and for many
months after (Dowden 2006). Single-band walkie-talkies
quickly became overcrowded and essentially useless. A few
NOPD captains organized a makeshift rescue operation
out of the driveway of Harrah’s casino, but without
consistent radio communications, contact with others on
the ground or in the air (such as helicopters seen by
officers) was impossible. Later reports suggested the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the
NOPD had unknowingly duplicated their coverage of parts
of the city, delaying efforts in uncovered neighborhoods
and perhaps costing lives (Baum 2006).

THE FRONTLINE: POLICING
The police, the most visible agents of government, are
essentially the gatekeepers for the other criminal justice
agencies—they are the agency responsible for maintaining
order and public safety by enforcing the law. They are also
the agency on the frontline during times of crisis and
conflict—as during Hurricane Katrina.
On the day that Katrina struck land, August 29, 2005,
the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) had a force
of 1,668 sworn officers (Riley 2006). Although the storm
surge and high winds hit the region the day before, the eye
of the hurricane did not cross the New Orleans
metropolitan area until 6 a.m. CDT, when the storm, with
winds estimated to be 125 m.p.h., hit Buras-Triumph in
Plaquemines Parish, directly south of Orleans Parish. The
impact on the police was immediate. Within 23 minutes of
the first breach of a levee (7 a.m. CDT), the NOPD
received over six hundred 911 calls. As officers responded
to calls, they were hampered by winds and flooding, as well
as legal regulations in place for the officers’ safety. The

The absence of working communication networks
provided an unfortunate opportunity for exaggerated
reports of escalating looting and random violence, such as
the unsubstantiated murders in the Superdome.2 Even
then–Police Superintendent Edwin Compass and Mayor
2

effect in the fall of 2006). Police recruits will receive a 12.5
percent increase, and officers in higher ranks will get a 10
percent raise. After the raise, first-year NOPD officers will
be paid $34,000. For comparison, starting salaries in
Atlanta and Houston are much higher.3 A rookie officer
with a bachelor’s degree in Atlanta, for example, makes
roughly $41,000. NOPD personnel receive a 2.5 percent
longevity raise every five years, not the annual raises
offered in many other jurisdictions.

Ray Nagin referred to incidents of violence and mayhem in
the days after Katrina that later were proven false.
Emergency plans provided little guidance on such
safety and security measures as providing emergency
shelters on higher ground, coordinating rescue efforts
when electronic communications were severed, and having
secure locations to detain offenders arrested during the
storm. The lack of a holding facility led police officers
capturing looters in the act to release them immediately
after taking their photographs in hope that warrants for
their arrest could be issued later (Baum 2006). The
NOPD’s emergency plan did not specify where vehicles
would be relocated, leaving responsibilities up to district
commanders. Many emergency vehicles were parked in
low-lying areas—the first areas to be flooded—to avoid
high-speed winds. Basic provisions and clean and dry
uniforms were not available to officers, nor were logistics
in place to distribute and manage supplies (U.S. Senate
2006a). In addition to police headquarters, three of the
eight police district stations were uninhabitable. Evidence
from more than 3,000 cases was submerged in floodwaters
at police headquarters and the courthouse. The flooding
also ruined hundreds of guns, the bulk of the department’s
ammunition, and other special equipment, such as bulletresistant shields. Conversations with law enforcement
personnel and media accounts report that it took over a
year for equipment to be replaced, and hundreds of
thousands of dollars have been spent to bring in
technicians in an attempt to salvage evidence needed to
prosecute violent criminals. Two years later, Police
Superintendent Warren Riley, Assistant Chief Anthony
Cannetella, and their staff continue to work in trailers,
waiting for the department’s five-story Broad Street
headquarters to be reopened. The department estimates
that the renovation may be complete by December 2007.
There had been no functioning crime lab until NOPD
moved into rented space in March 2007 at the University
of New Orleans. There continues to be no central
evidence storage facility nor holding cells available for
youth who are detained. As of April 2007, there was a
backlog of 200 firearms examinations and 2,000 narcotic
tests (Riley 2007).

Although some surrounding parishes are benefiting
from the NOPD losses, for the most part, they are also
suffering from depleted manpower. Jefferson Parish and
Plaquemines Parish stakeholders reported working at only
75 percent of their pre-Katrina force two years later.
As the criminal justice system slowly comes back
online locally, the demand for officers to appear in court
will jump significantly as cases proceed and backlogs are
cleared. These officers will be removed from their assigned
duties, further reducing personnel on the street. New
Orleans Police Superintendent Riley has repeatedly
testified in front of the U.S. Congress, calling their
personnel shortage “past critical” and urging Congress to
set aside supplemental funds to boost staffing (Riley 2007).
The 2007 budget for the NOPD authorizes roughly 1,850
full-time employees (both commissioned officers and
civilians). In July 2007, the department had 1,406 officers
and 259 civilian employees. Riley has admitted morale is
low throughout the department and likely to become
worse as would-be criminals begin to operate without fear
of punishment.
AFTER ARREST: THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
Prosecution
While the NOPD struggles to increase their capacity to
deter crime and maintain order, New Orleans’s chief
prosecutor is grappling with the long-lasting impact of the
storm. Effective policing is contingent upon processes that
include coordination with prosecutors to ensure criminals
are convicted and sentenced with penalties that include
substantial prison time. In New Orleans, the agency
responsible for coordinating the government’s response to
crime after individuals are arrested is the Orleans Parish
District Attorney (DA). The DA’s office assesses
investigative reports made by police officers and
investigators to determine whether there is sufficient
evidence to file a criminal complaint against a suspect and
notifies victims of the criminal charges, victims’ rights,
availability of services, court dates, plea agreement, pretrial
diversion, changes in court schedules, and the date, time,
and place of sentencing. The DA’s office also coordinates
witness trial preparation and management.

Two years out, the NOPD and law enforcement
agencies in surrounding parishes continue to feel the
impact of staff departures. The NOPD lost 217 officers in
2005 and 216 in 2006 (Riley 2007). As of spring 2007,
another 50 had left. Even with new academies graduating
roughly 35 individuals per class, the size of the NOPD
force remains down 30 percent from 2005. Due to the
assault on city finances, the police budget was cut 19
percent from $124 million in 2005 to $100 million in 2006.
Most of the cuts impacted police officer salaries.
Stakeholders interviewed lamented that experienced and
trained personnel are leaving NOPD for nearby law
enforcement agencies that have higher pay and better
benefits and facilities. In August 2007, the New Orleans
City Council voted to approve a second raise for NOPD
personnel retroactive to July 1, 2007 (the first raise took

Not surprisingly, Katrina hit the DA’s office hard.
Their office building was flooded and shut down, and has
not yet reopened. Renovations had not begun as of mid2007. Staff are currently working out of their second
temporary location, which barely holds the current staff.
Before Katrina, the office employed 92 prosecutors and 68

3

prosecutor filing charges (Filosa 2007). Article 701 of the
Louisiana State Code of Criminal Procedure requires that
individuals arrested for a felony offense be formally
charged with a crime within 60 days or be released from
jail. The news story also revealed that, in all of 2006, failure
to adhere to Article 701 resulted in the release of about
3,000 defendants. In comparison, there were only roughly
180 “701” releases in 2003 and in 2004 (MCC 2005).
Arrest-to-indictment time in other large jurisdictions
averages from 11 to 25 days (MCC 2002).

staff members. After Katrina, the office operated with only
11 staff members and 55 attorneys. The loss of revenue in
2005 resulted in the layoff of 57 nonattorney employees,
roughly 80 percent of the staff. It wasn’t until mid-2006
that new staff were hired to assist victims of crime and
work in other auxiliary capacities. In 2007, the New
Orleans City Council appropriated almost $3 million in
operating expenses for the office—less than what was
available before Katrina, but a significant increase over
2006 funding levels. The office currently has 89 full-time
prosecutors, but 13 of the positions are grant funded, and
funds for at least half of the grants will be expended by the
end of 2007 (Jordan 2007). Although the core staff is
steadily working its way through the backlog of cases and
appears to have a sufficient number of attorneys, the office
remains critically short on staffing for the important
auxiliary services the office normally provides, including
diversion, victim and witness assistance, and community
outreach. Note that these “auxiliary” services are often
crucial pieces of an effective and fair justice system. For
instance, crime victims—particularly victims of sexual
assault and domestic violence—often are needed to testify
and can hold the key to successful prosecution. Auxiliary
services often are staffed with social workers and
psychologists that serve as knowledgeable and trusted
supports for victims to ensure their safety, advocate for
their rights, and ensure that justice for all parties is served.

In efforts to reduce the backlog of cases and increase
the efficiency of the DA’s office, in mid-July 2007, the office
announced major changes in the staffing structure, such as
dissolving the homicide unit and creating an elite unit of
prosecutors with an average of 10 years of experience to
handle all murders and violent crimes. The office also
created a case recovery management unit to follow-up on
cases where defendants were released due to 701
violations. Salaries of entry-level ADAs were raised from
$30,000 to $50,000, and salaries of violent crime
prosecutors were raised to $80,000. The office also
expanded the pretrial diversion program and is working
closely with the drug court operated by the Criminal
District Court.
Indigent Defense in New Orleans
The storm also had a severe impact on the Orleans
Indigent Defense Program (OID) (i.e., public defender), the
system set up to provide lawyers at no cost to indigent
arrestees. Even before Katrina, the indigent defense
program did not employ enough staff to provide quality
representation for the thousands of cases the office
receives each year. Prior to Katrina, public defenders
represented roughly 80 percent of New Orleans
defendants (Sideris 2007).

Before Katrina, the DA’s office had been routinely
criticized for its high attrition rate and inexperienced
attorneys. Stakeholders interviewed hinted at inadequate
compensation for assistant district attorneys (ADAs),
whose starting salary was roughly $30,000 before Katrina
(Jordan 2005). The DA’s office had few options for
increasing revenues and cutting back on expenditures.
Funding consists primarily of warrant payments from the
state, federal Title IV-D funds from the state for the Child
Support Division, and grant revenue from federal, state,
and local government agencies. Three-quarters of DA
expenses go toward salaries and the remaining quarter
goes toward operations.

After the storm, 75 percent of the staff were laid off,
and the program attempted to function with six attorneys.
The Louisiana State Bar Association stepped in to provide
pro bono representation to defendants and grant funds to
pay for a case tracking system (Boland 2007). These
measures barely dented the backlog of cases. In late spring
of 2007, one Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge
suspended the prosecution of cases against 142 defendants
and ordered the release of 20 suspects due to legal
problems and delays involving indigent defendants.

Some stakeholders interviewed for this report
suggested that progress regarding effective prosecution
would be difficult unless the relationship between the New
Orleans Police Department and the District Attorney’s
office improved. News stories and watchdog groups
corroborate this (Gelinas 2007; Metropolitan Crime
Commission [MCC] 2005). The DA’s office asserted that
suspects often cannot be indicted or prosecuted because
of incomplete reporting, insufficient evidence gathered by
the police, a lack of credible victims and witnesses, and
NOPD arrest reports of poor quality (MCC 2005). The
NOPD has implied that the DA’s office has no systematic
process for prioritizing cases and is reluctant to keep
officers up to date on hearings and other legal actions in
their cases. Tensions heightened when the Times-Picayune
reported that, in January 2007 alone, 220 felony cases
were dropped (i.e., arrestees were never charged) because
arrestees remained in the jail for 60 days without a

Long before the storm hit, the OID Program had
been especially deficient, plagued by unreliable funding and
conflicts of interest, and failing to adhere to standards that
govern the provision of indigent defense (National Legal
Aid and Defender Association 2004). Louisiana is the only
state in the country that attempts to fund its indigent
defense system almost entirely through local revenue,
primarily traffic tickets and other court costs. This creates
not only a system with no permanent funding but an
unaccountable system with great disparities in resources
from one district to another. And with the exodus of
residents after Katrina, its revenue stream dried up.

4

magistrate held bond hearings. The Greyhound station also
served as the local jail in Katrina’s aftermath—constructed
by state prisoners from Angola and Dixon correctional
facilities. Arrestees were photographed, fingerprinted, and
then given wristbands to create some semblance of order.
Different colored wristbands were used for federal cases,
felonies, misdemeanors, and women (Filosa 2005).

Many stakeholders interviewed believe that the
catastrophe of Katrina has given New Orleans a unique
opportunity to reform the court system, and with it, the
OID program. Efforts to make over the court had begun in
2003, when the state legislature formed a task force to
study the indigent defense crisis and make
recommendations for reform. Based on the task force’s
recommendations, the state passed a 2005 indigent
defense reform bill. Three recommendations became law:
create uniform definitions of a case and indigency, require
uniform case reporting from all of Louisiana’s 41 judicial
districts, and increase the authority, membership, and
independence of the state indigent defense board.

Not until June 1, 2006, did the court partially reopen
and begin handling the backlog of cases. Progress was slow,
given that only the upstairs courtrooms functioned and few
people could sit for juries. Four months later, all 12
sections of criminal court were back up and running.
However, repairs to the building will continue through
2007. Judges still share courtrooms, and the Orleans Parish
Sheriff’s Office has insisted that only six inmates at a time
be brought into any one courtroom, given security
concerns (Filosa 2006).

In spring of 2006, a report the U.S. Department of
Justice funded was released that assessed the needs of
indigent defendants in New Orleans and outlined
recommendations for improvement. Recommendations
included hiring a leader to restructure the program, hiring
private attorneys to ease the backlog of cases, developing
comprehensive training and mentoring programs, and
increasing hourly and annual salaries.4 Some of the
stakeholders interviewed referred to the progress the
program (and the entire court system) was making and
were guardedly optimistic about the reforms. They
cautioned that some barriers to court efficiencies are
deep-rooted—they are a mix of legislative, procedural, and
political traditions. But for the most part, stakeholders
were grateful that at least Katrina’s toll on the court
process has brought together civil rights activists, federal
officials, and lawyers from around the country to develop a
more effective and fair system that supports individuals’
rights and measures to sustain adequate funding for a
critical component of the criminal justice system.

Juvenile Court
Juvenile courts are specifically designed to be separate
from the adult system of criminal justice. These courts
usually have jurisdiction over matters concerning children
(e.g., delinquency, neglect, adoption), usually those 17 and
under. Juvenile courts also handle “status offenses,” which
are acts that are unlawful only for juveniles, such as
truancy and running away. In New Orleans, the agency
responsible for juvenile justice cases is the Orleans Parish
Juvenile Court (OPJC). OPJC handles cases involving
delinquency, traffic, families in need of services, children in
need of care, voluntary transfers of custody, termination of
parental rights, adoptions, and child support (Gray 2007).
When Katrina struck, the state-run juvenile detention
center in the New Orleans area had already evacuated
youth to Baton Rouge. Left behind were youth in the two
city-run juvenile detention centers. These youth were
evacuated to the Orleans Parish Prison—which, as will be
discussed in the next section, was flooded and was not
evacuated until roughly three days after the storm. Given
the unwarranted issues experienced by these youth,
housed together with serious criminal offenders amid the
chaos, the court worked quickly to ensure that every
eligible juvenile inmate had been released, given probation,
or sentenced within a month after the hurricane. OPJC
moved its operations for 40 days to Baton Rouge, holding
its first post-storm hearing September 21, 2005. More
difficult to solve was the roughly 6,500 open cases in the
system—cases involving youth and parents who had
evacuated, sometimes separately. Because OPJC essential
staff could not return to their damaged court building until
December 2005, between October and December 2005,
OPJC held delinquency hearings at the First City Court in
the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers (on the West
Bank) three days a week. Dependency hearings to review
open cases were heard in Jefferson Parish (Gray 2007).

The New Orleans Criminal Court
The criminal court system in the United States is designed
as a public forum to adjudicate cases prosecutors bring
forward and to dispense justice under the criminal law. In
New Orleans, the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court
is the court responsible for adult criminal cases. Katrina
flooded the courthouse, completely shutting down
operations for nine months. A week after the storm,
Governor Kathleen Blanco issued an executive order
suspending all deadlines in legal proceedings for 30 days.
This order was soon extended until October 25.5 In the
days following the storm, however, judges attempted to
hold makeshift hearings at various prison facilities for
prisoners (i.e., those detained before trial) who had been
evacuated to institutions outside New Orleans. But these
attempts yielded little progress given the challenges of
locating the inmates, their lawyers, and police officers
(Garrett and Tetlow 2006). One New Orleans
stakeholder, reflecting on the “catastrophic” destruction of
the criminal justice infrastructure, stated, “a speedy trial
doesn’t exist where there is no courthouse.”

Cases were heard with only essential staff because the
city council had asked OPJC in September 2005 to cut
nonessential personnel. Three months later, OPJC’s overall
budget was cut 50 percent from $2,311,042.00 to

A makeshift court also was established for two
months at the New Orleans Greyhound bus station, where
prosecutors and the U.S. attorney had workspaces and a

5

Katrina, at any given time, between 5,500 and 8,000
inmates were held in OPP, with an average of about 6,500
inmates per day, making it the eighth largest jail in the
United States. At the time of Katrina, the majority of
inmates housed in OPP were pretrial detainees who had
been charged but not yet tried or convicted. The facility
held some women and juveniles as well. In addition, OPP
held nearly 2,000 state prisoners and over 200 federal
detainees (ACLU 2006). Many who were in OPP during
the storm had been arrested for misdemeanor crimes, like
unpaid fines. Although OPP was at capacity around the
time of Katrina, nearly 2,000 prisoners from other nearby
parishes were transferred to OPP prior to the storm
under the assumption that OPP was a stronger structure
and a safer place for inmates (Louisiana DPS 2005).

$1,129.455.00. For a long period after the storm, OPJP
operated with roughly 31 staff members. OPJC currently
has 66 employees, down from 94 before Katrina. Most
current staff are funded by Criminal Justice Infrastructure
Recovery grants from the U.S. Department of Justice. The
grant funds are expected to end by June 2008 (Gray 2007).
Because the two city-run detention centers were
basically destroyed, Orleans Parish currently is negotiating
with St. Bernard Parish to use space at the St. Bernard
Youth Detention Facility. Upon assessing the Youth Study
Center FEMA determined that a replacement was
preferred over repair (GOHSEP 2007). A new facility is
currently in the planning stages.
Private funding has also helped OPJC develop a longterm blueprint for a proactive and more responsive system
than was operational before Katrina. The juvenile court
has prioritized issues related to data collection,
disproportionate
minority
contact,
interagency
coordination, alternatives to incarceration within a larger
continuum of care, and conditions of confinement.

Today, OPP is home to approximately 800 inmates—
about 12 percent of its previous occupancy. Before
Katrina, the prison had twelve buildings; now, only five
remain (the House of Detention, South White
Street/Female Division, Conchetta, and Templeman Phase
IV and V). In addition to the five buildings, temporary jails
are now in place (including a significant number of tents).

THE BACKEND OF THE SYSTEM: CORRECTIONS

Many argue that when Hurricane Katrina hit, there
was no evacuation plan for the inmates of OPP (Flaherty
and Middleton 2006; Gerharz and Hong 2006). One week
prior to the storm, a decision was made not to evacuate
the inmates (ACLU 2006). In the hours before the storm
hit, the generators failed, food and supplies were beginning
to run out, and many prison staff left. When Katrina hit the
New Orleans area on August 29, inmates and staff were
stranded for at least three days.

The correctional system consists of institutional
corrections and community corrections. Once a criminal
court case is decided and an individual receives a sentence
of incarceration, he or she usually serves time in a local jail
or a state prison. Jails generally hold those sentenced to
less than a year; prisons are for those who receive a
sentence of more than a year. Individuals incarcerated may
become eligible for parole after serving part of the
sentence. Parole is a conditional release granted by an
authority, such as a parole board, where the parolee must
abide by specific conditions of release. Failure to abide by
them could mean revocation of parole and return to
prison. Probation is generally defined as community
supervision in lieu of incarceration but can also follow a
short jail sentence. In the New Orleans area, the Louisiana
Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C) is
the agency responsible for institutional corrections and
community corrections for individuals sentenced to state
prisons. Individuals sentenced to local jails are the
responsibility of Sheriff’s Offices in the local parishes.

The ACLU conducted an 11-month investigation into
the evacuation of OPP that involved interviewing
prisoners, OPP staff, and family members. The ACLU’s
findings were assembled into a final report that
documented much of the chaos that occurred inside the
prison during the storm and the days that followed,
including
ƒ putting inmates under lockdown and keeping them
on lockdown as the waters rose;
ƒ losing power and generators failing;
ƒ many deputies abandoning their posts;
ƒ prisoners going days without food or water;
ƒ no running water for waste disposal;
ƒ medical care denied;
ƒ violence among panicked prisoners;
ƒ attempts to escape and draw attention of rescuers
(some by lighting clothing on fire out windows); and
ƒ officers using force to contain prisoners (ACLU
2006).

Institutional Corrections
In addition to the impact on law enforcement and court
procedures, inmates in prisons and jails across Louisiana
were seriously affected. Inmates in some prisons in the
path of the storm were evacuated to other facilities.
However, the chaos of the shuffle left many inmates
unaccounted for, and families of inmates wondered where
their loved ones were. Below, we briefly describe the story
of Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), a facility in the middle of
the storm where prisoners were not evacuated. OPP, the
central “holding” facility for New Orleans, is run by the
Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office (OPCSO).

In addition to the chaos within OPP documented by
the ACLU, eventual evacuation reportedly was a
painstakingly slow process where people had to be rescued
by boat and transported to a highway overpass. Only three
boats were provided to transport the more than 7,000
inmates and other residents of New Orleans who used the

Orleans Parish Prison (not a “prison” by definition) is
one of the country’s largest jails. Prior to Hurricane

6

Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office for mold removal
services (FEMA 2007). FEMA is currently working with the
sheriff’s office to provide support for a temporary medical
facility; other federal funds have been used to reimburse
the sheriff’s office for temporary housing for jail personnel
and replacing other resources, such as K-9 police dogs,
training equipment, and warehouse supplies (GOHSEP
2007). Despite the steady reconstruction of OPP, the
impact of the hurricane on local corrections has been far
reaching. Sheriff Gusman testified in April 2007 that
continued low revenue (which is based on the number of
inmates) adds to the burden in ways that might not be
evident to the public. Basic services (such as food) and
medical care have suffered, and all inmate rehabilitation
and reentry programs have been cut.

prison for safety from the storm (ACLU 2006). Prisoners
were ferried from the complex to the overpass, four to six
at a time, which took more than three days (Morton
2006).
After more than two days on the overpass, inmates
were placed on buses and taken to at least 30 different
state and local facilities throughout the state. Many
prisoners were sent to Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility,
about an hour from New Orleans. Inmates were then
placed together out on the prison’s muddy fields with
limited shelter and little separation for those who had been
segregated or in protective custody (ACLU 2006; Tanber
2005).
With regard to damages sustained at OPP, the
flooding destroyed not only the entire electrical system of
every building, but building structures were damaged,
nearly half the vehicle fleet was destroyed, the main
medical facility was ruined, and an estimated $1.4 million in
computer equipment and $2 million worth of inmate
jumpsuits and bedding had to be replaced (Morton 2006).

Other parishes also continue to struggle to rebuild
their capacity to house inmates, both temporarily for
pretrial detention and after sentencing. According to
stakeholder interviews, the Jefferson Parish jail held
approximately 1,140 inmates before Katrina. Now, two
year later, it only holds 823 and staff capacity has been cut
roughly 25 percent. The limited capacity means individuals
arrested for nonviolent crimes are not held for any time
after arrest. Some parishes are using detailed inmate
ranking or risk scores to determine which inmates should
be released due to overcrowding. When a new arrestee or
convicted offender comes in with a higher ranking, an
inmate with a lower ranking is released. Parishes also have
sought other measures to keep pace with the flow of
sentenced prisoners. One sheriff’s office worked out an
agreement with the state where the local jail would no
longer hold probation and parole violators but instead
sends them to state prison facilities around Louisiana.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, after inmates
had been displaced to various institutions around the state,
Orleans Parish Criminal Court staff labored to release
inmates held beyond their sentences—an estimated 500
prisoners had been held beyond their sentences—mostly
people on parole violations and “municipal” charges, such
as being drunk in public or disorderly conduct (Critical
Resistance 2005).
The court also organized efforts to assemble lists of
local and state prisoners who had been evacuated. One
stakeholder reported the following:
Two weeks after the storm, the court gathered all criminal
justice agencies together to develop a process for locating
inmates. The court tracked down the clerk, the DA, public
defenders, the sheriff, and Department of Corrections
(DOC) officials and brought them to the table to begin the
process. This process was ongoing and inmates were still
being located in September and October 2006. The
process involved going from prison to prison and literally
doing a head count. Many volunteer lawyers came down.
One volunteer put together a group of lawyers who went
from prison to prison creating cases files for OPP inmates.
At one point, there were OPP inmates in 41 different
facilities.

Community Supervision: Probation and Parole
The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents
during Katrina included an unknown number of individuals
finishing their sentences under community supervision. In
2004, a Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin reported that in
Louisiana, there were 38,470 probationers and 24,387
parolees. All probationers and parolees in Louisiana are
under the supervision of the Louisiana Department of
Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C). When Katrina hit,
individuals under community supervision scattered around
the region. No plan had been introduced previously to
inform probation and parole personnel and clients of
reporting practices during evacuation or of mechanisms for
tracking evacuated individuals under supervision. Prior to
Katrina, the New Orleans area had four offices for
supervising clients; all were damaged during the storm.
One month later, only one office had reopened on St.
Charles Avenue. It took more than a year for the office in
Jefferson Parish to reopen, and today, only two of the four
offices are in operation.

The DOC also set up hotlines to assist family members of
inmates who were moved from Orleans’s area prisons and
jails.
On December 18, 2006, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin
Gusman announced that he would transfer inmates into
the temporary jails FEMA set up, in order to begin
returning inmates held in other parishes back to New
Orleans. A press release from FEMA on January 18, 2007,
announced that an additional $2.28 million would be
granted to OPP for heating, ventilation, and water system
repairs. This is in addition to the $48 million in funds
granted for temporary housing of inmates and to the

It took some time for the probation and parole
officers to return to their mission of locating offenders. In
the immediate aftermath, officers played many roles, but
mostly took part in search and rescue. Moreover,

7

expedited to accommodate the displacement. According to
one stakeholder, parolees and probationers who were
“found” and eventually issued transfers were not a
problem; the problem was—and remains—those turning
up because they have committed new crimes.

stakeholder interviews revealed that officers assisted not
only the fire department with security patrols but 911
dispatchers and first responders. Officers also were
immediately recruited to assist in the evacuation of
inmates from Orleans Parish Prison. Probation and parole
officers are licensed law enforcement officials under the
mandate of DPS&C, and therefore carry firearms. With the
shortage of law enforcement personnel, community
corrections and corrections officers stepped up to assist.
One corrections stakeholder interviewed stated that
although the eventual evacuation of OPP prisoners
appeared chaotic

Locating Sex Offenders
Before Katrina, DPS&C officers in the four probation and
parole districts in the greater New Orleans area
supervised 246 sex offenders (DPS&C 2005). In Louisiana,
evacuated sex offenders are required to check in with a
local police department in the new area. Interviews with
stakeholders revealed that, after Katrina, the first priority
for community corrections was to obtain information on
sex offenders who had fled and remained unaccounted for.
To locate these individuals, community corrections
personnel used internet searches, reviewed the “family
locator” web sites, and mailed letters to the last known
address of the parolee. By November, Louisiana officials
had listed the state’s wanted sex offenders on the internet.
Approximately three months after the storm, FEMA
reviewed the lists of sex offenders still unaccounted for
and ran searches for the individuals based on applications
for housing support.

…There was no loss of life, no injuries… It was a
tremendous success. The inmates wanted to be orderly;
they were warned about their safety and they just wanted
to get to a dry place.
Although the community correctional system in the
greater New Orleans area is back up and running, staffing
levels have shrunk since Katrina. Before Katrina, there
were around 160 officers in four offices. In early 2007, the
offices were operating at 30 percent capacity with only 40
field staff. Given the staffing shortage and limited bed space
to hold arrestees, violators of supervision are possibly
being treated leniently. One stakeholder interviewed
reported that technical violations are not resulting in
revocation of supervision and return to prison as often
since the storm. Regardless, stakeholders hold the
perception that the types and nature of technical violations
are the same as they were prior to the storm. However,
stakeholders have suggested that probation and parole
officers have less tolerance for those who say they cannot
find or hold a job because many jobs are currently available
that do not require specialized training (or spotless
records).

Sex offenders no longer under supervision are still
required by law to publicly register any new address.
Stakeholders stated that these individuals were hard to
locate. No estimates exist on the number of sex offenders
who have not re-registered.
Texas was not the only state to receive evacuees
labeled sex offenders. In November of 2005, officials
matched sex offender registries in Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama with the names of those who applied for
disaster assistance and came up with more than 2,000
matches in more than 30 states (CNN 2005). The federal
Administration for Children and Families (ACF) responded
by sending letters to the governors of each state,
encouraging them to cross-reference their sex offender
lists with those of other state registries.

Locating and Tracking Persons under Community Supervision
Hurricane Katrina introduced challenges to community
supervision that had never before existed. Following
landfall, phone lines were put in place to serve as a
“hotline” for probationers and parolees to check in, but
these hotlines were not widely publicized. By spring 2006,
an estimated 3,000 evacuees on probation or parole during
Katrina had relocated to Texas (Michaels 2006). Texas
asked FEMA to provide a list or report of the probationers
and parolees receiving federal aid in an attempt to take
stock of the newcomers. However, even with the list, state
authorities could not hold individuals unless Louisiana
issued warrants for them. It took more than a year after
the storm for Louisiana to begin accounting for the 1,300
criminals who came to Texas and applied for federal
emergency relief. The Texas Department of Public Safety
reportedly had the names of 1,700 additional probationers
and parolees who had not reported to an officer either in
Texas or in their home state (Sandberg 2006).

THE FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE
Although the stakeholders interviewed articulated chaos
and disarray in all areas of the criminal justice system after
the storm, most reported that order could not have been
restored without the overwhelming support federal law
enforcement agencies offered.
By the end of the first week after the storm, over
1,600 federal law enforcement officers were in New
Orleans (U.S. Senate 2006b). Under the National Response
Plan (NRP), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are given
authority as coordinators of specific emergency support
functions related to public safety. Federal law enforcement
assets can be used to support state and local authorities
with public-safety functions during national incidents.
Hundreds of federal officers from branches of DOJ and
DHS assembled in the Gulf region with equipment and

Offenders under supervision wanting to relocate to
another state had to go through an interstate compact
agreement. Although this normally requires weeks,
sometimes months, to complete, procedures were

8

The lack of critical police facilities and capabilities is not
only having a deleterious effect on the presentation and
prosecution of cases, it has eroded the morale of the
officers who see their best efforts to combat crime stalled
due to our inability to adequately test and evaluate the
evidence and watch as the same offenders are repeatedly
arrested and released. The NOPD is at a crossroads. We
will never abandon our mission to “serve and protect” the
citizens of New Orleans, but we are faced with the daily
reality of an imminent collapse of our criminal justice
institutions. (Riley 2007)

supplies. The National Guard arrived with trucks capable
of operating in up to eight feet of water (Baum 2006).
Given the unique challenges facing local law enforcement
efforts exacerbated by a frenzied inflow of external law
enforcement support after Katrina, federal agents
established a center to coordinate requests and responses
for law enforcement support until the NOPD indicated
they would no longer need additional resources from
other agencies.
Although many attested to chaos within branches of
the federal government during the first days after the
storm, stakeholders stated that the cooperation between
federal authorities and the local police was unprecedented.
The NOPD welcomed the FBI, DEA, and ATF. In turn, the
FBI has included NOPD officers in sensitive task forces,
including counter-terrorism—usually off limits to local law
enforcement (Perlstein 2007), and has initiated training
sessions for local officers. In addition to the federal law
enforcement resources on hand to assist in the days
following Katrina, DOJ has allocated substantial resources
to help reestablish the NOPD crime lab and fund two
highly trained victim assistance specialists for three years,
six assistant U.S. attorney positions to assist with
prosecuting fraud and violent crime cases, six ATF agents
to work with the New Orleans Violent Crime Impact
Team, nine FBI agents to support the New Orleans Violent
Gang Safe Streets Task Force, and three deputy U.S.
marshals to assist with tracking fugitives (DOJ 2007). In
addition, DOJ is providing resources to support prevention
efforts, including funding to establish a Boys and Girls Club
and a police athletic league in New Orleans.

Using crime tallies reported by the New Orleans
Police Department,6 we examined quarterly counts of
police-reported incidents of violent crime (homicide, rape,
robbery, and assault) from January 2005 through the
second quarter of 2007. Figure 1 shows that before
Katrina, quarterly violent crime counts were around 1,000.
After Katrina, the numbers slowly, but steadily, crept up
past 1,000, with 753 violent crimes reported to the police
in the first quarter of 2007 and an estimated 1,358 in the
second quarter. This is disquieting, given that the current
population in New Orleans is estimated to be a little more
than half of its pre-Katrina population. Figure 2 shows the
trend line for violent crime when rated by estimated
quarterly population.7 As shown, the violent crime rate
exceeds the rates of the two pre-Katrina quarters in 2005.
On the bright side, the rate of arrests for felony crimes8
appears to have increased since Katrina. The first row of
table 1 displays the quarterly felony arrest statistics for
new criminal violations for the first quarter of 2007,
compared with an average of quarters for 2003 and 2004.
However, if the ultimate goal of law enforcement is to get
criminals off the streets, in addition to officers making
more arrests, it is imperative those arrests are valid and
will hold up in court. After an arrest, officers must prepare
a report that is submitted to the DA’s Office, and the DA
accepts or refuses the case. Table 1 also displays the
percentage of quarterly felony cases accepted for
prosecution. As shown, the percentage of felony cases
accepted decreased from 46 percent before Katrina to 36
percent in the first quarter of 2007. Note that these
figures do not exclude cases where the arrest was made in
a previous year. Hence, 36 percent could be an
overestimate of the felony acceptance rate, assuming some
acceptances were for arrests in 2006 and that the DA’s
Office was working to clear the large backlog of cases due
to Katrina.

NEW ORLEANS CRIME TODAY
With the slow regeneration of various components of the
New Orleans criminal justice system, the majority of
stakeholders interviewed stated it would be no surprise if
levels of violence begin to creep up. One law enforcement
stakeholder articulated that the nature of the crime
problem has shifted a bit after the storm as drug dealers
attempt to establish new drug markets. “There is more
product than drug users, so drug prices are down… we
are seeing turf wars with new drug dealers and old.” He
also hypothesized that crime might be moving into
wealthier areas where residents have property attractive
to criminals. Another stakeholder suggested that because
kids are bused to unfamiliar schools in unfamiliar
neighborhoods, the opportunity for clashes and gang
involvement grows. Mayor Ray Nagin has stated in
congressional testimony that police officers are coming
into contact with more arrestees under the influence of
alcohol and drugs. One stakeholder closed our interview
by saying that “Daily routines have changed… Everyone’s
morale is in the sink right now—no one feels like they are
being treated fairly and this creates a hostile
environment… The basic social fabric holding together our
neighborhoods has eroded.”

Another barometer of criminal justice system
effectiveness is the conviction rate for cases that proceed
past arrest. Despite having one of the highest crime rates
in the country, New Orleans historically convicts a very
small percentage of defendants arrested for felony
offenses, especially violent offenses. While violent offenses
made up 14 percent of all arrests between 2003 and 2004,
they only made up 5 percent of all CDC convictions (MCC
2005). In that same period, the conviction rate for
homicide was 2 percent and the conviction rate for
robbery was 16 percent. Although comparable statistics

In April 2007, New Orleans Police Superintendent
Riley stated at a congressional hearing on Katrina that

9

Table 1. Felony Arrest Statistics, New Orleans Criminal District
Court

Figure 1. Violent Crime Counts, by Quarter, City of New Orleans
Violent Crime Counts, by Quarter, City of New Orleans

Quarterly average
2003–2004

2007
Quarter 1

State felony arrests (new crimes)

2,908

749

State felony arrests per 1,000 residents

6.56

8.85

Percentage of defendants with accepted
felony casesa

46%

36%

1600

1400

Quarter 3 of 2005:
No data due to
Hurricane Katrina

1200

1000

800

600

400

Sources: Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Docket Master;
Metropolitan Crime Commission, Inc. (2007).
a
Cases presented to DA may include cases where the arrest took place in the
previous year.

200

0
2005 Qtr 1

2005 Qtr 2

2005 Qtr 3

2005 Qtr 4

2006 Qtr 1

2006 Qtr 2

2006 Qtr 3

2006 Qtr 4

2007 Qtr 1

2007 Qtr 2

Source: New Orleans Police Department

LOOKING FORWARD
Figure 2. Violent Crime Rate, by Quarter, City of New Orleans

There is no doubt Hurricane Katrina crippled the New
Orleans criminal justice system. As discussed in this
report, in the two years since the hurricane, various
agencies of the system have made significant progress in
repairing the damages Katrina wrought. The deeply
ingrained flaws that marred the system before Katrina,
coupled with the devastation of the hurricane, shook the
core structures of the city’s justice system. New Orleans
continues to face many public safety challenges. The
NOPD and some of the sheriff’s offices of nearby parishes
remain woefully understaffed. Many detectives who were
removed from special efforts and placed on street patrol
remain on the street. Only 4 of the city’s 11 jails have
reopened, and some district command stations still
operate out of trailers, reducing the city’s capacity to
apprehend and prosecute dangerous criminals. Indigent
defendants do not have a clear path to negotiate the
chaotic system. Troubled youth remain at risk of running
up against a system that has little to offer with regard to
prevention or critical interventions designed to stave off
the criminal careers. Together, these issues create a cycle
of hard-to-shake problems, including low officer and
resident morale, further jeopardizing the region’s ability to
maintain safe streets.

6.00

Quarter 3 of 2005:
No data due to
Hurricane Katrina

Violent crime per 1,000 population

5.00

4.00

3.00

2.00

1.00

0.00
2005 Qtr 1

2005 Qtr 2

2005 Qtr 3

2005 Qtr 4

2006 Qtr 1

2006 Qtr 2

2006 Qtr 3

2006 Qtr 4

2007 Qtr 1

2007 Qtr 2

Sources: Crime counts obtained from New Orleans Police Department.
Population estimates derived from U.S. Census Bureau, RAND Gulf
States Policy Institute, the Greater New Orleans Community Data
Center, and GCR and Associates.
Notes: Caution is urged in drawing conclusions from these statistics due to the
use of quarterly population estimates derived from a variety of sources. Where
multiple estimates were given for one quarter, we used the middle- or
moderate-scenario estimate.

Looking forward, federal, state, and local
policymakers; criminal justice practitioners; community
advocates; the business community; and academics and
other criminal justice stakeholders must come together to
support and develop local efforts to rebuild the system
from the ground up and, in turn, generate the community
cohesion needed to set a beleaguered city back on track.
We see two overarching areas for progress. First, given
the unique opportunity to reconstitute the system,
criminal justice agencies should articulate both the
theoretical and practical foundation on which the system
will operate. Second, they should take the lessons learned
from Katrina and revisit them annually with an eye toward
any necessary adjustments and institutionalized change
throughout the criminal justice system. Below, we discuss
each topic in turn.

for 2006 and 2007 do not exist, DA Eddie Jordan has
indicated to the press that the violent crime conviction
rate is now (with the creation of the violent crime unit in
March 2007) close to 92 percent.9 In July 2007, the New
Orleans City Council asked the Louisiana Supreme Court
to review the performance of the Orleans Parish DA’s
Office.
A recent report from Tulane University shows the
needed critical oversight comes at a time when, compared
with cities of similar size, the murder rate in New Orleans
has been significantly higher since at least 2004, and the
disparity appears to be getting worse (VanLandingham
2007). If the murder rate holds steady in 2007, New
Orleans will have a murder rate seven times the national
average.

10

With regard to an articulation and reformulation of
the city’s criminal justice mission, the city should focus on
key overarching priorities that will keep crime down in the
short term and the long term. One stakeholder
emphasized the need for “a complete overhaul,” stating
that New Orleans needs to focus on a “system where all
three components [police, courts, corrections] come
together…You and I can play rock, paper, scissors all day,
but the issues are bigger than that.” Leadership needs to
come forward and decisions must be made. Should the
system prioritize deterrence? What will the balance be
among crime prevention, intervention, and punishment
(also referred to as “suppression”)? Does each branch of
the criminal justice system (i.e., police, court, and
corrections) have shared goals? Decades of research have
shown that public safety is best achieved through balanced
and coordinated prevention, intervention, and suppression
efforts. An efficient system will reduce the number of
youth and adults that ever make contact with the police
and also contain violent criminals by keeping them behind
bars or rehabilitating them.

Looking Back: The Lessons Learned for Disaster
Preparedness
The second suggested area for attention involves a careful
education gleaned from the wreckage of Katrina. There are
a number of key lessons learned from New Orleans’s
experience that have implications for the city and for other
jurisdictions preparing for natural and man-made disasters.
The stakeholders interviewed articulated that the central
lessons learned cannot be separated by agency. One
corrections stakeholder explicitly stated, “You cannot
separate our lessons learned from other agencies—we,
like others, suffered problems in command, control, and
communications.” The lessons generally fall into four
categories: planning, human resources, interagency
coordination, and equipment and technology.
1. Improved planning that includes establishing clearly defined,
written plans.
At all levels of government, the legal authorities who hold
responsibility to act in a disaster must be clearly specified,
along with their roles and responsibilities. Similarly, the
lines of authority should be effectively communicated and
well understood to facilitate rapid and effective
decisionmaking. An important element of effective
emergency response is the ability to identify and deploy,
where needed, resources from a variety of sources,
including federal and state governments, military assets of
the National Guard or the active military, as well as
private-sector assistance. State and local entities should
have in place and understand procedures for requesting
law enforcement assistance from the federal government.
Stakeholders interviewed told stories about local agency
staff knowing about the existence of emergency
management assistance compacts—the vehicle through
which to request federal support—but not knowing how
to implement them. Confusion over law enforcement
responsibility and authority, both across levels of
government and within the federal government, remained
for weeks after the storm, leading to egregious delays in
support personnel, equipment, and other needed
resources. Established, written, and understood plans that
coordinate joint responsibilities will reduce the potential
chaos that often results from multiple entities believing
they are in charge or the opposite—when no agency or
individual wants to take charge.

On the ground, law enforcement intelligence should
be determining, for instance, whether, after Katrina, there
are new groups of problem individuals or whether crime
shifted to different geographic locations because of more
suitable targets in other neighborhoods. Using researchbased strategies to decipher underlying patterns in violent
crimes can assist with the selection of strategies to both
prevent and combat violence. Furthermore, a focus on
suppression efforts—such as curfews, surveillance cameras,
and heavy police enforcement and prosecution of
individuals with multiple arrests for violence—should not
be done without coordinated crime prevention efforts that
could include, for instance, culturally sensitive substanceabuse treatment, mentoring programs, and summer-jobs
initiatives for youth. On the back end, comprehensive
prisoner reentry programs for soon-to-be released
prisoners coordinated across agencies (corrections, mental
health, employment, homeless services, etc.) to ease the
transition to their much-changed communities could go a
long way toward keeping crime in check.
At the behest of the New Orleans City Council, in
2006 and 2007, the Vera Institute of Justice examined the
policies of the New Orleans criminal justice system and
produced a succinct report outlining practical steps to
improve public safety.10 The report listed three key
programs or policies worth pursuing in New Orleans:
institute early triage of cases and routine communication
between police and prosecutors; reduce the emphasis on
incarceration by offering a wider range of pretrial release
options and greater use of community-service sentencing
and alternatives to prison; and develop more appropriate
and cost-effective sanctions for municipal offenses (e.g.,
quality of life offenses, such as public drunkenness and
prostitution). While these types of reforms clearly require
substantial resources, whether local criminal justice leaders
have the unflagging commitment necessary remains to be
seen.

While there is no doubt that federal law enforcement
response to Hurricane Katrina was a central facilitator in
restoring the New Orleans Police Department’s command
structure as well as the larger criminal justice system,
coordination was slow and the bureaucracy was
onerous—often delaying the promise of renewed safety.
For instance, cumbersome regulations at the federal and
state level regarding the deputization of federal law
enforcement officers greatly lengthened response time.
Furthermore, particularly for staff on the frontline
during and after disaster, codification of all emergency
operation plans must be in writing, and systematic training
of all senior and some junior local law enforcement

11

to recovery. Adequate planning to accommodate staff
would include prescription for providing clothing, food,
water, and other necessities, such as places to take a
shower and sleep, and if necessary, accommodations
where
staff
can
reside
longer-term.
These
accommodations should be strategically located, some
nearby and some disbursed throughout the state,
depending on circumstances of the disaster. Stakeholders
also suggested that overtime payments would help limit
turnover. Ensuring basic necessities are taken care of so
that staff can do their jobs reduces the burden on
emergency responders and essential personnel and helps
safeguard morale.

personnel to increase familiarity with the plans would go a
long way toward preparing agencies and personnel to react
quickly in any disaster. The appropriate personnel should
know the proper equipment to have and use, and where to
store it for different disasters (e.g., floods, high winds,
electronic communications knocked out, etc.). When
advance warning is given, detailed timelines that count
down to the approximate time the hurricane or other
crisis will hit should specify procedures for evacuation,
storing, and recovering equipment under the assumption
that no structures will be safe. Written procedures should
also include guidance on coordinating the return of
inmates, prioritizing the order of their return, and making
adequate plans for transporting prisoners from other
locations to court if necessary.

3. State-of-the-art equipment and technology.
With the basic infrastructure of electronic communications
essentially destroyed after Katrina, individuals interviewed
stressed the need for state-of-the-art equipment and
technology. With regard to communications, an
interoperable communications system should be a priority.
Interoperability refers to the ability of public safety, fire
and rescue, and emergency management personnel to talk
seamlessly over one radio and data system without
hindrance, and across a wide area, such as a city, county,
or region (Mountjoy 2005). Experts admit that a key
obstacle to interoperability is funding, but they have
suggested that local, state, and federal agencies can explore
cost-sharing methods, new agreements with vendors,
interstate and regional cooperation agreements, and
innovative ways to fund this vital service.

Procedures for continuity of all criminal justice
operations should be specified under the worst case
scenario approach. In other words, if the capacity of the
local courts and jails in New Orleans, for instance, was
wiped out, procedures to book arrested individuals and
hold them should be established elsewhere—in multiple
locations—throughout Louisiana. Similarly, establishing
temporary courthouses and giving judges the ability to hear
cases physically outside their usual jurisdiction will help
cases proceed without major glitches. Mechanisms to
report crimes, to receive appropriate services for victims
and witnesses, and to notify victims regarding court
proceedings, releases, and escapes should be established.
The goal is to create a system where the components of
the criminal justice system could pack up and move
without interrupting case processing from arrest to
adjudication, while at the same time maintaining order and
adherence to citizens’ rights. FEMA recently has specified
that continuity of operations plans must be able to be
implemented regardless of prior warning of an emergency,
and actions should be in place within 12 hours of activation
(Boland 2007).

Other efforts should include acquiring mobile satellite
phones for emergency personnel with area codes outside
the local calling area. Stakeholders complained that “local
cell phones were backed up every day until late at night,
for at least a week after the storm.” Evidence storage
should be able to withstand fire and flooding. High-water
vehicles and small aluminum boats that have quiet motors
would enable rescue personnel to hear victims of the
storm calling for help.

Establishing written procedures for initial disaster
response and continuity of operations will not only help
evacuation and rescue efforts and hasten resumption of
operations but will help protect the constitutional
safeguards of the thousands of indigent people who, as this
report has shown, often become unwittingly caught in the
system. Criminal justice advocates have cautioned that the
constitution’s role in facilitating an understanding of
criminal justice provisions during emergencies remains
largely unexplored (Garrett and Tetlow 2006). The
uncharted territory runs the risk of practice without
thoughtful preparation, resulting in trampling citizens’
rights, jeopardizing family stability, increasing trauma, and
sullying the criminal justice system.

Sophisticated data systems are another area of critical
need. Criminal justice agencies could develop cross-agency
data systems that are transparent and accessible to all
agencies. Although most communities lack a mechanism
that provides real-time information, well-constructed
databases and information systems can improve response
time and identify gaps that need to be filled. Key elements
could include information about essential staff, their
responsibilities, skills, and emergency contact information.
One stakeholder referred to the difficultly finding staff
licensed to drive buses—which is critical to evacuation.
Data systems also need the capacity to house information
on individuals and cases making their way through the
system from arrest to prosecution, adjudication, and
sentencing. The same system could track inmates. This
system would necessitate daily off-site back-up of
electronic data. Corrections stakeholders interviewed said,
before Katrina, all DOC data on inmates were only stored
in one place—the respective prisons—and as a result of

2. Prioritization of actions to sustain needed human resources.
Related to adequate and sustained planning efforts,
stakeholders repeatedly spoke of the need for New
Orleans’s institutions to prioritize the needs of essential
personnel after disaster. Staff turnover in all agencies and
at all levels remains high and represents a serious obstacle

12

the flooding of computer systems, staff had to cobble
together hardcopy lists and painstakingly track down
inmates.

justice system are not in place before disaster hits,
foundations will be more likely to crumble afterward. New
Orleans has a unique opportunity to create new, fortified
foundations through systems change across the entire
spectrum of criminal justice processes. The change may
not be easy. Agencies will need to (1) agree on the nature
and extent of the problems they wish to address and the
processes by which these problems should be resolved; (2)
be willing to examine and change current cultures, roles,
world views, and resource levels; (3) collaborate in
addressing problems by sharing data, financial resources,
and personnel; and (4) work together to change local
ordinances and state or national legislation. Two years out,
we should not be asking whether New Orleans could have
done better with regard to components of the criminal
justice system, but instead, we should focus on how to
work together to create a model criminal justice system
for the future.

Related to technology is the need to transmit reliable
and consistent information to persons in correctional
facilities, probationers, parolees, and their families.
Although local corrections agencies in New Orleans acted
promptly to locate persons under parole and probation
supervision who were displaced from their homes because
of the storm, locating those who left the state was not
always easy. Before the storm, community corrections
agencies did not have a mechanism in place to facilitate
location of or contact with displaced parolees,
probationers, registered sex offenders, and their families.
Looking forward, hotlines and web sites for clients that are
promoted across jurisdictions and state lines, and avenues
to expedite paperwork to transfer permanently individuals
under supervision to another state (the new state of
residence) will increase accountability for individuals under
correctional supervision.

One astute stakeholder surmised that near misses—
those warnings for hurricanes that never arrive—are
problematic in that, over the years, they created a general
feeling of safety and low threat from hurricanes or other
potential disasters. He offered that now people and
institutions understand the impact and will be more
proactive and attuned to potential hazards in the future.
Let’s do more than just hope that is true.

4. Interagency coordination.
Establishing coordinated task forces or working groups
(before a disaster) across local and state criminal justice
agencies (e.g., police, courts, public defenders, corrections,
community corrections) can help communication and
coordination both overall and in disaster preparation. To
achieve the goal of law enforcement—public safety—even
under the best conditions, one branch of law enforcement
must rely on the others if its own branch is to function
well. For instance, court cases will not be prosecuted
successfully if police personnel do not have the ability or
technology to provide hard evidence against defendants, or
public defenders are not available to serve defendants. One
stakeholder, when talking about the process of putting the
system back together, said, “The court has the ability to
bring all criminal justice agencies together to coordinate
efforts, but can’t make them get along with each other.”
The most successful criminal justice systems will be those
where agencies within the larger structure trust each other
and work together to achieve joint goals. Multipartner
collaborations that jointly problem-solve on a regular basis,
such as neighborhood-level prosecutor units, will be more
able to achieve peace in times of chaos.

1
The reports and stories highlighting the disarray are too numerous to cite. A few
recent ones include Garrett and Tetlow (2006), McCarthy (2007), Nossiter and
Drew (2007), and Shapiro (2007).
2
See, for example, James Dao and N.R. Kleinfied. “Storm and Crisis: The Overview;
More Troops and Aid Reach New Orleans; Bush Visits Area,” The New York Times.
September 3, 2005. James Dao and N.R. Kleinfield. “Chaotic Exodus Continues,” The
New York Times, September 3, 2005; Joseph B. Treaster, “Police Quitting,
Overwhelmed by Chaos,” The New York Times, September 4, 2005; and Robert
McFadden, “Bush Pledges More Troops as the Evacuation Grows,” The New York
Times, September 4, 2005.
3
See http://www.houstontx.gov/police/careers.htm for officer salaries in Houston
and http://www.atlantapd.org/index.asp?nav=Career for salaries in Atlanta. In
addition, see Rostker, Hix, and Wilson (2007) for recruitment and retention issues in
the NOPD.
4
The report can be found at
http://www.lajusticecoalition.org/reports+resources/studies/.
5
See executive orders KBB 2005-67 (September 6, 2005) and KBB 2005-48, La. Reg.
2352 (October 2005). Three months after the storm, Louisiana passed a law that
allowed the state supreme court to take the same steps Blanco had during future
emergencies (Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Articles 944-45).

In addition to coordination across government
agencies, coordinating councils and working groups can
also serve as vehicles to build networks among criminal
justice agencies and the community, including residents,
businesses, nonprofits, and civic groups. Community
collaboration with government entities can facilitate an
understanding of the often-divergent priorities, cultures,
and expectations and, in turn, reduce the alienation and
disaffection frequently present in urban communities.

6
See http://secure.cityofno.com/portal.aspx?portal=50&tabid=11. The NOPD did not
provide second quarter estimates for 2007 but instead indicated that violent crime
was up 31 percent from the same quarter in 2005. Hence, we estimated the number
given the percentage increase.
7
Caution is urged in drawing conclusions from these statistics due to the use of
quarterly population estimates derived from a variety of sources (U.S. Census
Bureau, RAND Gulf States Policy Institute, the Greater New Orleans Community
Data Center, and GCR and Associates). Where multiple estimates were given for
one quarter, we used the middle- or moderate-scenario estimate.
8

A felony is a serious crime (contrasted with misdemeanors), usually punishable by a
prison term of more than one year. Arson, assault and battery, murder, rape, grand
theft or larceny, robbery, and burglary are all examples of felonies.

CONCLUSION
All of these lessons learned, in some way, point to the
importance of having strong organizational structures in
place in communities. If solid foundations of the criminal

9

See McConnaughey (2007).

10

13

The Vera report can be found at http://www.vera.org.

Boland, Mary L. 2007. “Will Your Criminal Justice System Function in the
Next Disaster?” Criminal Justice Magazine, 22(1): p.28-34.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2004. “Probation and Parole in the United States,
2004” (November Bulletin).
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ppus04.pdf

This report could not have been possible without the support
of the dozens of criminal justice stakeholders in New Orleans
and the surrounding parishes that we interviewed in 2006 and
2007. As we promised them anonymity, we can only thank them
profusely and graciously without naming them, and let them
know that their words helped put the enormity of the hurricane
and its impacts on the criminal justice system into perspective,
providing a glimpse of the chaos as well as the enormous
successes being accomplished each day as the city takes steps to
regain order in the lives of residents and to reestablish a fully
functioning criminal justice system. Thank you.

CNN. 2005. “Breaking News Transcript. New Orleans Mayor, Louisiana
Governor Hold Press Conference.” Aired August 28.
Communications Infrastructure Hearing. 2006. Colonel FG Dowden,
Regional Liaison, New Orleans Department of Homeland Security and
Public Safety. February 6, 2006.
Critical Resistance. 2005. “Fact Sheet.” Oakland, CA: Critical Resistance.
http://www.criticalresistance.org/.
Dowden. F.G. 2006. “Hurricane Katrina: Managing Law Enforcement and
Communications in a Catastrophe,” US Senate Testimony (February 6,
2006). http://hsgac.senate.gov/_files/020606Dowden.pdf.

We would also like to thank Stu Kantor and Will Bradbury
for reading drafts of this essay and Jennifer Yahner, Shannon
Reid, and Aaron Morrissey for their assistance editing and
formatting the final document.

Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2007. “Orleans Parish Prison
System Continues to Rebuild with Help from FEMA.” Press Release,
January 18. Washington, DC: FEMA.
FEMA. See Federal Emergency Management Agency.

KATRINA RESEARCH AT THE URBAN INSTITUTE

Filosa, Gwen. 2005. “Inside the Cells at Camp Greyhound.” The TimesPicayune, September 08. Available at
http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tporleans/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_tporlean
s/archives/2005_09_08.html#Scene_1.

Within weeks of the hurricane, Urban Institute researchers set
a baseline providing the demographics of the disaster in a
snapshot of race, poverty, and federal food stamps data for
New Orleans and cities receiving evacuees, and the state of the
nonprofit sector in Louisiana, such as the size and fiscal health of
organizations delivering health and human services to storm
victims. Many of New Orleans’s social and economic ills
predated Hurricane Katrina: widespread poverty, a failing public
education system, low wages, and a weak tax base. Urban
Institute researchers have studied these urban blights for nearly
40 years and knew what to reinforce when the storm
compounded old problems and swept in new ones.

———. 2006. “Judge Vows to Free Untried Inmates.” The Times-Picayune, July
29, p. A1.
———. 2007. “Crime Thrives under 60-Day Rule.” The Times-Picayune,
February 12. http://www.nola.com/news/tp/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-7/11712631133140.xml&coll=1.
Flaherty, Jordan, and Tamika Middleton. 2006. “Imprisoned in New Orleans.”
ColorLines 32 (Spring).
Garrett, Brandon L., and Tania Tetlow. 2006. “Criminal Justice System
Collapse: The Constitution after Hurricane Katrina.” Public Law and
Legal Theory Working Paper Series. Charlottesville: University of
Virginia Law School. http://law.bepress.com/uvalwps/uva_publiclaw/art44.

A few months later, UI researchers delivered policymakers
an essay collection, After Katrina: Rebuilding Opportunity and
Equity into the New New Orleans, with proposals that strike a
workable balance between road-tested ideas and much-needed
innovation.

Gelinas, Nicole. 2007. “Baghdad on the Bayou.” City Journal, April 23.
http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_new_orleans.html.
Gerharz, Barry, and Seung Hong. 2006. “Down by Law: Orleans Parish Prison
before and after Katrina.” Dollars and Sense 264 (March/April).
http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0306gerharzhong.html.

Another essay collection grew out of a December 2005
seminar jointly sponsored by the Urban Institute’s Center on
Nonprofits and Philanthropy and Harvard University’s Hauser
Center for Nonprofit Organizations. After Katrina: Public
Expectation and Charities’ Response explores the U.S. capacity to
respond to disaster, including lessons learned from September
11.

GOHSEP. See Governor’s Office (Louisiana) of Homeland Security and
Emergency Preparedness.
Governor’s Office (Louisiana) of Homeland Security and Emergency
Preparedness. 2007. “Update on the Recovery of the New Orleans
Criminal Justice System.” New Orleans: Governor’s Office of Homeland
Security and Emergency Preparedness.
http://www.ohsep.louisiana.gov/newsrelated/1603crimejustsys.htm.

In March 2007, UI published After Katrina: Shared Challenges
for Rebuilding Communities, a collection of essays about policies
and models that can help guide rebuilding efforts. Together, the
essays lay an important foundation for developing action plans
to address the underlying issues of poverty, inequality, and weak
social infrastructures that have been persistent in the region for
decades.

Gray, Ernestine. 2007. “The Katrina Impact on Crime and the Criminal
Justice System in New Orleans.” Written Testimony to the
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the
Committee on the Judiciary, April 10. New Orleans: Dillard University.
Gusman, Marlin N. 2007. “The Katrina Impact on Crime and the Criminal
Justice System in New Orleans.” Written Testimony to Subcommittee
on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the Committee on the
Judiciary, April 10. New Orleans: Dillard University New Orleans.

Two years out, new resources related to Katrina have
been published by UI researchers. For a complete list of Katrina
papers and publications, see http://www.urban.org/afterkatrina/.

Jordan Jr, Eddie. 2005. “Toward a Fully Integrated Criminal Justice System:
Step One: Refocusing and Restructuring the DA’s Office as Prelude to
Systematic Coordination with the Police.” New York: Linder and
Associates.
http://secure.cityofno.com/resources/portal102/DaComstat.pdf.

REFERENCES
ACLU. 2006. “ACLU Report Details Horrors Suffered by Orleans Parish
Prisoners in Wake of Hurricane Katrina” (August 10).
http://www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/26421prs20060810.html.

———. 2007. “The Katrina Impact on Crime and the Criminal Justice
System in New Orleans.” Written Testimony to the Subcommittee on
Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the Committee on the
Judiciary, April 10. New Orleans: Dillard University.

Baum, Dan. 2006. “Deluged: When Katrina Hit, Where Were the Police?”
The New Yorker (January 9): p.54.
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/01/09/060109fa_fact.

14

Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C). 2005. “P
and P Officers Locate 90% of Sex Offenders Under Supervision.” Press
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MCC. See Metropolitan Crime Commission.

U.S. Senate, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
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McCarthy, Brendan. 2007. “NOPD Data Show Violent Crime Has
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———. 2006b. “Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared.” S-R 109322. Washington, DC: U.S. Senate.

McConnaughey, Janet. 2007. “New Orleans D.A. Shaking Up Office.” The
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Vera Institute of Justice. 2007. “Proposals for New Orleans’ Criminal Justice
System.” New York: Vera Institute of Justice.

———. 2005. “Performance of the New Orleans Criminal Justice System,
2003–2004.” New Orleans: Metropolitan Crime Commission.
———. 2007. “Orleans Parish Criminal Justice System Accountability
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Michaels, Dave. 2006. “Katrina Left Flood of Felons in Texas: DPS Warns
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23.

15

 

 

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