Prisons in New Orleans empty as temporary booking facility up and running

State and local officials are trying to piece together a criminal justice system in a region that had descended into anarchy after Hurricane Katrina.

Early Saturday, a temporary booking and holding facility was opened in New Orleans to process people who'd been arrested. However, it may not include the traditional fingerprinting and photographing.

After prisoners are processed, they'll be moved to other jails, said Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti. It wasn't immediately clear how many people already were booked at the temporary jail.

"The entire criminal justice system is alive and well and is being rapidly re-established," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who represents the district in and around New Orleans and is setting up a new office in Baton Rouge.

The evacuation of prisoners in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes was complete by Thursday without a single escape, officials said; deputies and their families were finished evacuating a day later.

The New Orleans justice system is primarily moving up the road about 60 miles (100kilometers). But it continues to face logistical nightmares created by the flooding and destruction by Katrina.

The computer logs still hadn't been retrieved from the criminal district court in New Orleans. And there still will be the matter of tracking down witnesses, finding court records and trial transcripts and organizing a temporary court. Officials are considering holding arraignments by telephone and video conference.

"You will have some problems for a while as far as jury trials are concerned because we don't necessarily have any juries right now," Foti said.

Prisoners with less serious offenses may be considered for early releases to free up prison beds for the more dangerous, according to state Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder.

For federal court, Letten said databases are up and running and federal judges from the New Orleans-based district were preparing to relocate.

"We're in business. If you want to break the law, if you want to do serious kinds of crimes ... we are able to deal with that now," Stalder said. "We just believe that to be critically important to return to normalcy.", AP reported.

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