Kathy Zeitoun leads panel discussion on prison abuse

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on October 29, 2010.

Four women who were either prison abuse victims or human rights activists led a panel discussion entitled “Human Rights of the Incarcerated” Tuesday night.

The Newcomb College Institute and Newcomb-Tulane College co-sponsored the event.

Kathy Zeitoun, the event’s keynote speaker, knows the atrocities committed within the New Orleans prison system all too well. As told in Dave Eggers’ book “Zeitoun,” Kathy’s Syrian husband Abdulrahman Zeitoun, wrongfully accused of terrorism charges and denied due process, spent five months in Louisiana jails following Hurricane Katrina.

“It was hard for him to be called Taliban, al-Qaeda,” Zeitoun said, recounting his treatment by prison guards, some of whom had just returned from serving in Iraq. “We worked so hard to build our reputations in this city, being Muslim… and after the storm we helped rebuild.”

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with one of every 55 residents behind bars, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU of Louisiana receives approximatelty 80 complaints of prison abuses each month, mostly concerning “beatings from guards, inadequate medical care, squalid living conditions and being denied access to a lawyer,” according to their website. In New Orleans, city officials are currently looking to almost double prison capacities despite a budget crisis that is forcing public universities to severely cut programs.

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New Orleans public housing decentralized

This article, published in The Hullabaloo on October 22, 2010, spurred me to pursue further research in my graduate-level Economics of Regulation class.

David Gilmore, chief of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, gave final approval Tuesday for the city to apply for a $65-million federal grant that would fund the redevelopment of Iberville, the last major public housing complex left in New Orleans.

The highly competitive Choice Neighborhood grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to transform areas of concentrated poverty into “viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs,” according to its website.

City officials say the Iberville housing development’s proximity to the French Quarter, St. Charles streetcar line, and planned LSUbiomedical campus and teaching hospitals make it ideal for redevelopment.

“You tie it all together and you will have one of the greatest neighborhoods in the city,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at an affordable-housing conference Sept. 23, reported The Lens.

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Louisiana cuts education funding

This story was published in The Hullabaloo on October 8, 2010.

Because of a unique mix of post-Katrina events, existing fiscal policy and political will, Louisiana may have to slash up to 73.5 percent of its portion of the budget allocated for healthcare and higher education spending between now and July 2011 to make up for expected losses.

As federal stimulus funding is set to run out in July 2011, many states are facing massive budget cuts across the board. At Louisiana State University, cuts of this magnitude translate into losses of $62 million for fiscal year 2011 – 2012, which could result in roughly 700 layoffs, the closure of seven of its 14 schools and the elimination of one-third of its degree programs.

“We do not know what lies ahead or what we will be asked to do next,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said, according to his website, LSUBudget Impact. “But we will continue to make the case to all constituents as forcibly as possible that these cuts would be destructive to the state’s flagship institution, catastrophic to the local economy and disastrous for the future education of the children of Louisiana.”

In a conference call with college journalists on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that while he understood the severity of the Louisiana budget cuts, there is not much the federal government can do.

“I don’t know how much we could intervene with the state legislature,” Duncan said. “Many of these issues at the local level we can’t control at the federal level. But I will look at legal remedies.”

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