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Promptly Complete Investigation into Allegations of Abuse at Jena Prison in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Letter to Executive Assistant Director Michael A. Mason, FBI

August 10, 2006  
 
Michael A. Mason  
Executive Assistant Director  
Criminal Investigative Division  
Federal Bureau of Investigations  
 
Dear Mr. Mason:

The National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (NPP / ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF) are writing to ask when the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) will complete its inquiry into allegations of abuse at a number of correctional facilities during and after hurricane Katrina.  
 
We are enclosing with this letter a comprehensive report by the NPP / ACLU documenting the abuses experienced by persons in the aftermath of the hurricane. Included in the report is a section co-authored by HRW and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, describing the abuses we originally documented at Jena and that fall within the ambit of your agency’s investigations. We also enclose an excerpt from the recently adopted Conclusions of the Human Rights Committee (HRC), the body of experts entrusted with the enforcement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As you will note, the HRC expressed its concerns about the alleged failure of evacuation plans after the hurricane. The Committee further instructed the United States to inform it about the results of inquiries into these matters, referring implicitly to your investigation.  
 
As you may recall, Human Rights Watch and the NAACP LDF first wrote on October 7, 2005 to the Special Litigation Division of the Department of Justice to request an investigation into allegations of abuse during and after hurricane Katrina. In our letter we shared the results of our interviews with nearly two dozen detainees who presented consistent and detailed claims of physical abuse and mistreatment. On November 1, 2005, we received a response indicating that the Justice Department would not pursue the matter and that the FBI had been requested to conduct an investigation. On August 3, 2006 we were informed by your office that the investigation is ongoing.  
 
We are therefore writing to you today to ask that the investigation be completed as soon as practicable and to recommend that it include inquiries into the treatment of prisoners throughout the affected region, including at Orleans Parish Prison, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Bossier Parish Maximum Security Jail, Ouachita Parish Correctional Center, and Jena. Moreover, since previous cursory investigations conducted by state department of corrections officials did not include interviews with inmates, we wish to highlight the importance of speaking directly to the prisoners who were incarcerated at the facilities at the time of the reported abuses.  
 
Further, we hope that the FBI investigation underway includes assessments as to whether staff members were trained in department policies and whether they were properly supervised. A thorough investigation should also determine whether and to what extent prisoners have had access to grievance procedures.  
 
We ask you to make your findings public, and to provide to state or federal prosecutors all evidence that could be used to hold accountable those responsible for abuse. We further urge the Department of Justice and state district attorneys to immediately and thoroughly pursue such prosecutions. Not only should the public know exactly what transpired at these facilities, but the victims must also see their abusers brought to justice.  
 
Sincerely yours,  
 
Alison Parker  
Acting Director  
U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch  
 
Elizabeth Alexander  
Director  
ACLU National Prison Project  
 
Theodore M. Shaw  
Director-Counsel  
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.  

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