A bed inside Orleans Parish Prison is hard to land in the city’s post-Katrina criminal justice system, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A judge has ordered the release of inmates being held on nonviolent misdemeanor and traffic violations from the overcrowded jail. The order excludes anyone accused of committing crimes against people, such as domestic violence, battery and driving while intoxicated. It doesn’t free anyone already convicted and sentenced for a crime.
“We have a limited number of jail spaces, and we can’t fill them with people charged with minor offenses such as disturbing the peace, trespassing or spitting on the sidewalk,” said Chief Justice Calvin Johnson. “I’m not exaggerating: There were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk.” The storm-damaged jail complex holds about 1,500 inmates, a small fraction of its pre-Katrina capacity of 7,000. Daily intake can rise to 150. Local judges continue to work out of borrowed courtrooms at U.S. District Court four days a week, while the public defender’s office is broke and vacant, leaving at least 1,700 impoverished inmates languishing in jails across Louisiana. Not a single jury trial has been held in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court since Aug. 29.