At “Camp Amtrak,” the bus and train station being used as jail and courthouse in New Orleans, bail hearings that began last week were the first step toward reviving a busy criminal justice system, the New York Times reports. It could be weeks before the city’s jails, police headquarters and courthouses are repaired, before witnesses can be found, and jury trials begin again.
Problems will remain. Floodwaters deluged evidence rooms, destroyed the police crime laboratory, and wiped out courthouse computer systems. Officials have reconstructed from thick printouts the charges lodged against more than 6,000 inmates before they were evacuated in small boats and scattered among 39 state prisons. About 800 who were in jail on minor charges, including some who normally would have been held for just a night or two for public drunkenness, were held for two to three weeks amid the confusion. Court officials have suspended speedy-trial rules and delayed all but the most urgent proceedings until at least Oct. 25. The city can no longer pay its share of the operating expenses for the courts and the local prosecutor, forcing both to lay off dozens of workers.