In the chaos that engulfed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of people arrested for petty crimes such as passing bad checks, begging and public intoxication ended up trapped behind bars for weeks on end without ever seeing a lawyer or judge. They included people like Melinda Beane, a mother of two who was arrested for a positive drug test and then held on a warrant in a case that was subsequently dismissed, and John Rust, arrested for failing to appear in court on an outstanding charge because the system neglected to inform him of his court date, according to stories documented by Human Rights Watch.

Other people were arrested in the wake of the storm -- some on looting charges for simply taking action to help themselves and their loved ones survive, or for violating curfews imposed after the disaster. Among those locked up were youths who faced nightmarish conditions inside the Orleans Parish Prison, conditions documented in grim detail in a report by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.

These will be among the injustices addressed at a conference being held next month in New Orleans titled "Amnesty for Prisoners of Katrina: A Weekend of Reconciliation and Respect for Human Rights." The conference is being organized by Critical Resistance, a national organization with New Orleans offices that, in its own words, "works to end the reliance on prisons and policing as responses to what are social, economic and political problems."

The conference, which is set for Dec. 9 and 10 in New Orleans, is demanding amnesty for people arrested while trying to survive after Katrina and for those who were already in the system and whose cases were impacted by the storm. The organizers also want to call attention to "the dangers inherent in rebuilding New Orleans on a foundation of jail cells and militarized streets, and call for genuine public safety based on community based and designed models" of justice. They are also asking people to sign a petition demanding amnesty for what it calls "prisoners of Katrina."

The conference will begin with a human rights teach-in on Saturday, Dec. 9 at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries at 4400 St. Charles Ave. in New Orleans. The teach-in begins at 4 p.m. and will offer workshops, a roundtable discussion with local organizers and a keynote address by noted activist, author and scholar Angela Davis, one of the founders of Critical Resistance. The following day, religious congregations throughout the city will participate in Amnesty Sunday, which will focus on themes of reconciliation, justice and forgiveness, and for the healing of the storm-battered city and its residents.

For more information, call Critical Resistance at 504-304-3784 or e-mail crnational@criticalresistance.org.