On April 18, 2011, New Orleans police arrested Clarence Jones, a 41-year-old black man. Clarence contends that he was walking with his cousin Keitha Hyde, running some errands around 11:30 am, when he ducked into an alley to relieve himself. “It was just an empty house, so I went in the backyard out of sight,” he says, talking to me via phone from jail—and when cops turned the corner, he looked guilty. But police contend that Clarence was climbing out a window with pliers in his left hand, apparently scrapping for metal or copper wiring in the gutted building. The cops arrested him and his cousin and took them to the Orleans Parish Prison. On May 13, nearly a month later, Clarence finally appeared before a magistrate in Orleans Parish Criminal Court, who arraigned him on the charge—simple burglary—and set his bail at $10,000 (before raising it four days later to $20,000).
More than sixteen months later, Clarence Jones is still in jail waiting for an attorney to be assigned to represent him. “It’s been hell back here,” he says, explaining that he is living, along with approximately 400 other prisoners, in oversized tents that fill the prison grounds. In the aftermath of Katrina, which flooded huge swaths of the massive Orleans Parish Prison seven years ago, circus-style tents were erected to “temporarily” house the inmates. Today, the tents are still housing prisoners on a patch of barren ground in the middle of the city.
Clarence is one of 230 people sitting in limbo in the Orleans Parish Prison this summer after a $2 million budget shortfall forced the Orleans Parish public defender’s office to lay off twenty-seven employees, twenty-one of them lawyers.
Rumpole says: Shocking. Bring on the Limited Registry.