WASHINGTON – More than 7,600 prisoners were transported out of the New Orleans (search) area to state prisons and local jails, signaling the start of major changes for the criminal justice system in Louisiana.
The district attorney's office in New Orleans is near the jail where thousands of inmates were still being evacuated Thursday.
"If there's no power in the DA's office and if there's not going to be power for a week or two or three, alternate accommodations will have to be made, and people are working on that," said Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (search).
Adams' office in Baton Rouge, some 75 miles from New Orleans, will assist in working out temporary accommodations next week for the New Orleans prosecutors.
Some 6,500 prisoners were being moved out of Orleans Parish alone.
"Originally we were told we were going to evacuate over 4,000 and then on Wednesday the number grew," said Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Several hundred of the inmates were moved twice. Prisoners in low-lying coastal St. Bernard Parish were sent to the Orleans Parish jail before Hurricane Katrina (search) came ashore. Then they had to be moved again to various penal facilities around the state.
"You have no power; you have no food; you can't flush toilets," Laborde said of the Orleans Parish jail.
The federal court system in New Orleans will move to a new location, a spokesman for the federal judiciary said.
"We don't know where they are going to try to set up shop," said Dick Carelli, spokesman for the federal courts' administrative office. "It may be Baton Rouge; it may be Shreveport, but first of all they need the legislation in order to move."
Federal law does not allow U.S. District courts or U.S. Bankruptcy Courts to hold proceedings outside of their geographic area, and so Congress must pass emergency legislation when it returns after Labor Day.
There is urgency to opening the U.S. District Courts because the Speedy Trial Act sets strict deadlines for the handling of criminal cases.
Over 300 federal prisoners were moved out of local jails in the New Orleans area to state and federal prisons, the U.S. Marshal's headquarters in Washington reported.
The U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge, David Dugas, said the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Helen Berrigan, was in Baton Rouge, as was the U.S. attorney for New Orleans, Jim Letten.
"As they get a better handle on this they'll determine whether they can go back to New Orleans or relocate somewhere else," said Dugas.
Federal courthouses also were closed in Mobile, Ala., and Jackson, Miss. The courthouse in Pensacola, Fla., reopened Thursday.