Prisons have come a long since the days when jailbirds in horizontal stripes were forced to break rocks in the hot sun. But several new uncut videos suggests they may have come too far.
The footage, which was aired at a federal hearing yesterday, shows inmates inside their cells at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in New Orleans doing the sorts of things that get a person locked up in the first place. In one video, inmates are seen gambling and using narcotics. In another, they are shown handling a gun complete with lives rounds of ammunition.
A compilation of some of the footage by TV station WDSU (see below) includes shots of prisoners chugging beer from tall cans. In one scene, a convict who is supposed to be behind bars is seen roaming Bourbon Street, talking with police officers and civilians in the French Quarter. It is unclear when the video was shot.
Manny Romero, a prison consultant testifying for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Justice Department, reportedly said after watching the videos that he had never seen such dysfunction in a jail. He added that the amount and nature of some of the contraband suggests prisoners may have received help from the prison staff in obtaining it.
Federal investigators say the videos are a reflection of a widespread problem inside OPP. For years, they note, the prison has been plagued with fights, sexual assaults, and drug use among inmates.
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