Create Equity in New Orleans' Criminal Legal System

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Each year, thousands of men, women and children come into the criminal legal system, 85% of them are appointed a public defender. Most are charged with nonviolent offenses and many enter the system due to undiagnosed and untreated mental health and medical issues, addiction and substance use, and suffering from symptoms of poverty. All are supposed to be presumed innocent, however, the vast majority remain in jail simply because they can’t afford their bond.  

The Orleans Public Defenders play a critical role in protecting the rights and well-being of our community, fighting against injustice and ensuring our criminal legal system is fair and just, particularly for New Orleans’ most vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens.

OPD represents 85% of all criminal cases in Orleans Parish, and is responsible for thousands of municipal and traffic court cases each year. In 2018, OPD represented nearly 25,000 cases. Yet, OPD received less than one quarter the local appropriation given to the District Attorney.

In 2019, New Orleans will spend a staggering $258 million to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate our citizens, but just $1.8 million to protect innocence, provide accountability and ensure a fair and equitable criminal legal system. The effects of these inequities remain substantial: wrongful convictions, overdetention, mass incarceration, inefficiency, waste, high costs and community distrust.

This is why we are launching our campaign to create an equitable criminal legal system in New Orleans. The funding and resource disparities baked into our justice system are inequitable and unfair. We are asking the Mayor to provide OPD with an appropriation equaling 85% of the District Attorney’s appropriation.

OPD in crisis hinders our ability to provide ethical, professional and constitutional representation and jeopardizes the great progress of current reforms. New Orleans is now an established national leader in criminal legal system reform. However, without OPD as a robust partner, efforts like jail size reduction and creative prevention services are likely to fail. Research continues to show public defense is one of the best criminal justice investments leaders can make to lower costs, recidivism, and harm to the community. Properly funded public defenders strengthen the health of our community by ensuring fairness, protecting innocence and holding power accountable.

If we are to work toward a healthier, more equitable New Orleans, we must address the disparities in our criminal legal system head on. Join us in calling on Mayor Cantrell and the City Council to find the political will to move our criminal legal system more toward equity and justice by equitably funding public defense.

Equal justice depends on it. New Orleans deserves it.