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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