What if you were locked in jail, and nobody knew you were there? That's happened to at least a handful of prisoners in New Orleans. Lawyers and volunteers have found people lost in the prisons and brought them to the attention of the city's courts. In each case, the defendants were arrested well after Hurricane Katrina.
NPR has reviewed eight cases in New Orleans where people were arrested on bench warrants after the Katrina disaster, and they stayed behind bars without seeing a lawyer or a judge for months — one for as long as 8 months.
In New Orleans, poor defendants get represented by whichever lawyer happens to be assigned to the courtroom on a given day. If a prisoner never gets a court date, nobody represents him.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections has implemented a new safeguard to try to keep any future defendants from getting lost. The state created two new "prisoner liaison" positions. One of their rules is that they will no longer admit a new prisoner to a jail unless he has a fixed prison sentence or a scheduled court date.