The Los Angeles Times reports that an untold number of people got “lost” in the Louisiana prison system in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Many of them are still among the 3,000 active criminal court cases there, and at least 85% of those are poor or indigent, qualify for representation by a public defender, according to Pamela R. Metzger, director of Tulane University’s Criminal Law Clinic. “The system failed,” she said.
The city’s indigent defense system has long been plagued by negligent attorneys who provide haphazard and deficient representation. But in the months after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the program spiraled into chaos: Funding plummeted; 15 lawyers quit the already thin legal staff; documents and evidence were lost or destroyed. A project of the Tulane law clinic and the Student Hurricane Network aims to free indigent “Katrina prisoners.” Some 1,800 pre- and post-Katrina cases are under review.