The New Orleans criminal justice system has become a virtual assembly line to handle minor narcotics offenses, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. While many players in the city’s vast marketplace for illegal drugs are involved in killings, shootings, and other felonies, the system does a poor job of pinpointing them for stringent prosecution and prison time. That is the discouraging picture in a report by the Metropolitan Crime Commission at a time when New Orleans has regained the dubious title of America’s murder capital among major cities.
Violent crime is one of the city’s most pressing concerns and an ongoing source of national embarrassment, but 72 percent of all convictions in criminal court were for drug offenses, and most of those convictions, 67 percent, were for simple possession. As a result, a disproportionately small percentage of people convicted ended up behind bars. Only 5 percent of those convicted of narcotics possession were sent to prison, a reflection of shifting public sentiment about minor drug use and recent easing of state drug laws. Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche said it was alarming to learn that only 12 percent of those convicted of drug distribution received prison time.