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Updated 11:00 AM January 23, 2006




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Advocates seek due process for hundreds of incarcerated hurricane victims

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Thousands of suspected criminals, including many who have not been charged with a crime or been given the opportunity to post bail, as well as prisoners in the Louisiana system are among the forgotten victims of Hurricane Katrina. An attorney who spoke as part of the MLK Symposium is helping them seek due process.

New Orleans attorney Meghan Garvey and several colleagues have been working endless hours to get hundreds of detainees statewide processed through the court system, including many who evacuated before and during Katrina. Some remain lodged in cramped cells with little food, water or fresh air, she said Jan. 16 during a talk in the Michigan Union.

"We were really scared for these people's lives," said Garvey, who spoke during the "Voices Left Behind: Hurricane Katrina and the Prison Epidemic" discussion—one of many MLK Symposium events held on campus.

When the hurricane made landfall Aug. 29 and many residents evacuated, law enforcement officials faced a unique situation as they had to decide what to do with prisoners and others being held under arrest, Garvey said.

Among those affected were people arrested as early as July who had not received bond or access to a lawyer. Louisiana law gives prosecutors 60 days to bring charges against a suspect or justify to a judge why the person should not be freed, she said.

Garvey said many prisoners and others were left behind and didn't have information about how their families fared during the storm. Eventually, they were transported to jails throughout the state, but it wasn't uncommon for some to be beaten, tortured or subjected to racial or sexual taunts by law enforcement officials, she said.

Tammy Williams, a hurricane evacuee from Texas who had planned to be part of a panel discussion with Garvey but was unable to attend, sent a statement about her plight that was read the audience.

Williams was one of the detainees not charged with a crime who spent several days in jail after police arrested her for riding in a stolen vehicle. After she was carjacked twice attempting to get her family out of New Orleans, a stranger driving a stolen mail truck offered Williams a ride. All of occupants of the vehicle were arrested after police stopped the truck.

Garvey estimated her group has represented 2,000 detainees, but only 1,000 have been freed. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done," she said.

Despite the city's challenge to rebuild and put its justice system in order, Garvey said she has no plans to leave. "New Orleans is a great place and there's no place I'd rather live," she said.

The Prison Creative Arts Project—a U-M program that encourages incarcerated individuals to tap into their creativity through theater, art and writing—sponsored the event.

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