Orleans inmate bus accident raises concerns about long-distance commute to court

Orleans inmate bus accident raises concerns about long-distance commute to court

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Orleans Pasrish Sheriff's Office said six of the sixteen inmates involved in a Thursday morning accident near Manchac will get X-rays as a precaution.

They received what are being called "minor injuries" in a crash that has some once again questioning a program that has hundreds of local inmates housed four hours away.

They were headed to Orleans Criminal Court on I-55, the tail end of a nearly five-hour journey, when State Police said their prison bus struck another vehicle and was then hit by another vehicle from the rear.

"The cause of why the bus driver ran into the rear of the other vehicle is still under investigation," said State Police Troop L spokesman Dustin Dwight.

Sixteen prisoners were given a preliminary exam on the road before being transferred to another prison bus in the southbound lanes south of Ruddock. And in several courts, the crash created delays.

"Some of them aren't showing up because of the accident," said Amanda Fraser with the Orleans Public Defender's Office.

The accident is the latest chapter in a saga that many defense attorneys have been complaining about. More than half of Orleans Parish inmates are being housed in other jails.

"From our perspective it's very difficult. We only see our clients on their court dates," said Fraser.

Jail spokesman Phil Stelly said the inmates were brought to the Orleans Justice center and triaged to see if more medical treatment was necessary. A source said they were likely shackled at the time of the accident, and that's creating more concern.

"That is a concern. It's my understanding they are shackled at the arms and the legs, so when an accident happens, that's very concerning," said Fraser.

While the crash raises security issues, there's also the cost. Sources said it's costing the city more than $6 million to transport, feed and house hundreds of inmates at remote facilities in East Carroll Parish and Tallulah. And that's money that some believe could be used elsewhere.

The good news is that the inmates seem to have escaped without serious injury. Fifteen complained about pain, but were medically cleared. Six others will be X- rayed Friday as a precaution under a prisoner transfer program that will continue for three more months.

At last check, nearly 977 prisoners, or about two-thirds of the inmates in Orleans Parish custody, were being held in jails primarily in North Louisiana.  That is so deputies running the jail can be retrained under a program authorized by the federal consent decree governing reforms.

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