The Right to an Attorney is an empty promise in NOLA
While working on my book, “Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice,” I went down to New Orleans in 2012 to report on the public defender system there. It was a disaster. Still.
In this story, “Locked Up Without a Key,” I talked to a guy who had been arrested for breaking and entering and charged with burglary. He couldn’t make his $20,000 bail. More than sixteen months later, Clarence Jones was still in jail waiting for an lawyer to be assigned to represent him. He had never been assigned an attorney, never even talked to one. “It’s been hell back here,” he said, explaining that he was living, along with approximately 400 other prisoners, in oversized tents that filled the prison grounds. In the aftermath of Katrina, which flooded huge swaths of the massive Orleans Parish Prison seven years earlier, circus-style tents were erected to “temporarily” house the inmates. In 2012, the tents were still housing prisoners on a patch of barren ground in the middle of the city.