Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Behind the Times, Above the Fold

Here’s a suggestion for Orleans Parish Prison: Take inventory. Nearly a year-and-a-half after Katrina, they still don’t know who’s in custody or to which prisons around the State all their wards were scattered after the big storm. A case in point is the story of Pedro Parra-Sanchez, who spent thirteen months in jail without speaking to a lawyer or seeing the inside of a courtroom. As reported today on the front page of the New Orleans Times Picayune, Mr. Parra-Sanchez finally had a day in court, thanks to the lawyers and student attorneys at the Tulane Law Clinic who secured his release. Unfortunately, Mr. Parra-Sanchez is not the first, and doubtfully the last, to suffer through this prisoner accounting snafu.

For what it’s worth, the Assistant District Attorney offered the State’s formal apology to Mr. Parra-Sanchez, and the presiding judge expressed his outrage. The Sheriff and Department of Corrections – which are responsible for housing prisoners – couldn’t muster an apology, preferring the blame game and finger pointing. Had they previously exhausted the reservoir of hari-kari outrage? I’d guess there’s more head rolling at Wal-Mart when too many DVDs and pampers disappear from the shelves than when Orleans Parish Prison loses track of its inmates. Is it really too much to ask to have the State keep tabs on its pre-trial detainees so it knows who’s in custody, where, and for how long? One would think modern computers are up to the task, and a decent tracking system would save the State a lot of front-page news embarrassment. (Well, except shame may be unknown in some bureaucratic quarters.)

A positive footnote: Kudos to Touro Synagogue, which paid for the travel expenses home to California for Mr. Parra-Sanchez, a devout Catholic man, after learning of his plight from a Tulane student attorney of Iranian descent. Score one for interfaith cooperation!

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