About the time Katrina struck, New Orleans was the jail capital of America, incarcerating people at four times the national average. Since that time, the city has reduced its local inmate population by 67%. What was the trick? First, they stopped treating jailing like a business. And second, they built a smaller jail. No really. That was a key factor. And get this; during the period New Orleans stopped jailing so many people, there has been an overall reduction in crime. Smaller jails. Less crime. Jazz hands.
[This item is syndicated from Nextdraft, but I had to add a little something about induced demand. Like building bigger roads resulting in more traffic (not less), building bigger jails means you want to fill them with criminals. Kudos to New Orleans for building a smaller jail and finding ways to adjust to the reduced supply of jail cells. -jkottke]
In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Through the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.
Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh’s testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun — Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence — and ask to see one of the family’s rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a “throwaway phone” and take pictures to confirm she was dead.
Update: Zeitoun was found not guilty.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.
American tragedies don’t occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don’t occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old’s birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News.
David Dennis asks (and answers) a compelling question: Why isn’t the New Orleans Mother’s Day parade shooting a national tragedy?
Michael Lewis rents a mansion in New Orleans and finds in the experience a parable about the thirst of Americans for better housing than they can afford, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the ensuing financial panic.
The real moral is that when a middle-class couple buys a house they can’t afford, defaults on their mortgage, and then sits down to explain it to a reporter from the New York Times, they can be confident that he will overlook the reason for their financial distress: the peculiar willingness of Americans to risk it all for a house above their station. People who buy something they cannot afford usually hear a little voice warning them away or prodding them to feel guilty. But when the item in question is a house, all the signals in American life conspire to drown out the little voice. The tax code tells people like the Garcias that while their interest payments are now gargantuan relative to their income, they’re deductible. Their friends tell them how impressed they are-and they mean it. Their family tells them that while theirs is indeed a big house, they have worked hard, and Americans who work hard deserve to own a dream house. Their kids love them for it.
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side, etc, has moved back to his native New Orleans to work on a book “that will center on the restoration of New Orleans”. Back in Aug 2007, Lewis wrote an article for the NY Times Magazine about Hurricane Katrina and the economics of catastrophe. (thx, brian)
Regarding Eve Mosher’s project to draw a flood line around Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, here are a couple of related projects. Ledia Carroll’s Restore Mission Lake Project outlined the shore of an historical lake which used to sit in the midst of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Under The Level explores the possibility and consequences of Katrina-level flooding in NYC. (thx, kayte and dens)
A collection of pre-Katrina obituaries from New Orleans of people with distinctive nicknames. “New Orleans in the pre-Katrina world was full of characters that you’d sooner expect to read about in a Flannery O’conner short story than meet in real life. ” (thx, sara)