05/11/2006

Katrina Report Reveals Abuse of Incarcerated Youths

In the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' broken juvenile justice system completely abandoned 150 children locked in the city's adult prison, according to a report by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJLP).

Created with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, JJPL is an advocacy organization based in New Orleans dedicated to reforming Louisiana's juvenile justice system.

"Treated Like Trash: Juvenile Detention in New Orleans Before, During and After Hurricane Katrina" (PDF) documents the horrific conditions endured by incarcerated youths, trapped in filthy floodwater and going without food and water for as long as five days.

"The water had feces and stuff floating around in it, but some people drank it anyway because they were so thirsty," 14-year-old Eddie Fenceroy told The Associated Press at a Tuesday news conference held to introduce the report.

"I don't think my son should have gone without food or water," said Lynette Robertson, Fenceroy's mother. "I don't think he should have been afraid that he would die. I don't think he should have had to go through any of this. No child or family should ever have to go through such a thing again."

The young prisoners were eventually evacuated, along with thousands of adult inmates, to a highway overpass. But not before they endured nightmarish conditions that left many with long-term psychological stress.

"Treated Like Trash" includes stories from incarcerated youths about their ordeal.

During their evacuation, some of the teenagers saw food floating in the dirty floodwater. "We tried to catch and eat it. That's how hungry we were." 

-- E.F, 15 years old

"Kids were going crazy, shaking their cells for food and water." 

-- T.G., 16

"It was scary, I didn't know what was going to happen or where my mom was. Kids were so weak from no food or water." 

-- L.H., 14

The report also highlights an already-flawed system recognized as one of the country's worst. Even before Katrina, JJPL had documented unsanitary conditions, inadequate education, poor medical services and violence from guards at the youth detention facilities.

"[The report] illustrates the deep problems in New Orleans' system of juvenile justice and how we treat children here," said JJPL director David Utter.