Criminal Justice Meltdown in New Orleans?
"We are faced with the daily reality of an imminent collapse of our criminal justice institutions."
New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley
Some say crime causes a city to be under siege; others say crime is the symptom of a city under siege.Either way,
Thursday there were four murders in 24 hours in
The District Attorney of New Orleans just resigned at the insistence of the Mayor, the Attorney General and several legislators.His office owes a group of discharged employees a federal civil rights judgment of over $3 million - and neither the City nor State was willing to pay unless he resigned.There is high turnover in the office and thousands of people arrested have been released because the office could not timely decide whether to charge them with crimes or not.His resignation will not make
Katrina severely damaged an already dysfunctional criminal justice in
Black on black crime continues to dominate.Of the 161 homicide victims in 2006, 131 were black men, along with most of the suspects. Many victims and the suspects were teenagers. About two-thirds of the deaths of 2006 have gone unsolved.
Police work out of trailers, including the brass.During the summer, officers filled out paperwork in their cars because there was no working air conditioning in their temporary trailer offices.Not until spring 2007 was there a working crime lab.
The public defender system is starting to improve but remains unable to represent all those facing charges.Recently, Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter mailed over 450 letters to attorneys in
Jail is not the answer to our crime problems because
Addressing crime takes a functioning criminal justice system - and
Three recent reports help show the way for
The August 2007 report of the Urban Institute, "Washed Away? Justice in
The VERA Institute of Justice report, "Proposals for
The community-based Safe Streets Strong Communities organization has put out several recommendations about how
But even if all these changes are started, most leaders acknowledge what Criminal Judge Calvin Johnson, who has presided in criminal court for nearly 20 years, says over and over "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem."
Crime is not an isolated action.It is impossible to fix the crime problem if the rest of the institutions that people rely on remain deeply broken.
The head of the local FBI suggested to the Christian Science Monitor that criminals in
Katrina and its aftermath place enormous daily stresses on all people, particularly those already disadvantaged by race, gender and class systems. Treatment facilities report much more substance abuse, suicide and domestic violence.Yet, the mental and physical health systems are only a shell of what they were before the storm. Affordable housing is scarce and families are separated.Public education is not working for the poorest children.There is only so much the criminal justice system can do.
The number of doctors and social workers and nurses who treat mental health is down dramatically.Beds are down nearly 80%. Hospitals turn troubled people away every day.Doctors report people who cannot be turned away are chemically restrained on gurneys in the hall or kept in dimmed emergency waiting rooms until they can be released. The system is backed up around the state.
Even regular medical treatment is a challenge for uninsured and insured both as many hospitals remain closed.Drug and substance abuse treatment are scarce.
The extreme lack of affordable rental housing means many older family members have not returned to
Public education for those not in charter schools continues to be quite an uphill battle for the children - often in highly policed public schools that illustrate the school to prison pipeline.
After Katrina it is all worse.There is much more stress on the streets.There is much less counseling and treatment available.There are fewer extended families to provide a supportive environment. The police are less experienced.The police do not communicate well with the prosecutors, who do not work well with the victims and witnesses, while the judges feud with the public defenders, and on and on.
After Katrina, there is even less of a system and certainly less justice for everyone - the public, victims, the accused, law enforcement and people working in the institutions.Only when the criminal justice system is supported by a good public education available to all children, sufficient affordable housing for families, accessible healthcare (especially mental healthcare), and jobs that pay living wages, can the community expect the crime rate to go down.
The District Attorney has resigned.But
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans.You can reach him at Quigley@loyno.edu