New Orleans Justice Post-Katrina: Some Improvement, No Big Change


Probably no modern criminal justice system has faced the kind of test imposed by the devastating flood after Katrina, which swamped New Orleans’ jail, criminal court, vital police buildings, the district attorney's office and more. The storm also exposed the deep-rooted problems in each of those agencies, along with their seeming inability to cooperate and coordinate with one another, says the New Orleans Times-Piacyune. The New Orleans criminal justice system has always been expensive, crowded, and busy: lots of arrests, lots of people jailed, lots of cases to be heard in court. despite all the activity, the outcomes were never impressive. A paltry 5 percent of the convictions at Criminal District Court were for violent crimes in the years before Katrina, despite murder and violent-crime rates that were high and climbing.

Over the months, and in many cases years, it took to rebuild the various components of the system, little was done to change the fundamental makeup of the agencies or how they operate. There have been some improvements after the storm, particularly in the past couple of years. Several longtime observers expressed hope that now might be the time that criminal justice leaders – some of them new to the job, such as Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas – finally deal with larger structural problems: corruption, high arrest rates for minor crimes, low convictions for serious ones, an expensive and problem-plagued jail. One factor undoubtedly will be the U.S. Department of Justice, which is conducting a large-scale review of New Orleans police practices, as well as negotiating with Sheriff Marlin Gusman over conditions at the jail. Some observers believe that significant progress has already been made. “I think we took a quantum jump in 2009,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “The police, DA, and judges are all working together, pulling in the same direction. That has not always been the case in Orleans Parish.”

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