Criminal Justice

For Black New Orleanians, the 2012 Consent Decree between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and NOPD was as overdue as rescue boats and buses to Katrina-displaced residents in the lower wards. Policing has been a man-made disaster in New Orleans for a long time, earning NOPD notoriety across the country and laying waste to Black communities for decades. So when the Black community’s complaints of mistreatment and mismanagement led to an investigation and agreement on necessary police reforms, it was alarming that Mayor Landrieu sought to void the DOJ decree. After all, Landrieu was the same mayor who, upon taking office, wrote to DOJ that he had inherited “one of the worst police departments in the country.” Now he was claiming that the cost of police reform was too high for the city because it had already been tasked—under yet another, separate DOJ decree—with fixing inhumane conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.

Lucky for New Orleanians, federal courts disagreed with the Mayor and recognized the critical importance of enforcing human rights.

In truth, the cost of failing to reform New Orleans’ criminal justice system can be measured by the cost to Black lives. Despite the implementation of the 2012 Decree, incidents of police violence persist and accountability remains absent, as it was in the killings of Wendell Allen, (where NOPD officers lied in giving statements of what transpired) and Keith Atkinson (where the NOPD officer involved had a long history of using excessive force). Even when Black New Orleanians survive interactions with police, their prospects remain grim. Louisiana still has the highest rate of incarceration in the country, and while the prison population in New Orleans has declined since Katrina, it remains one of the top U.S. cities in per-capita inmate populations. There are also far too many young people entering the adult criminal justice system. New Orleans leads the state in the number of juveniles transferred to adult court, with an average of 32 juveniles transferred per year between 2010 and 2013.

Change is necessary, but it is only effective if comprehensive and fully resourced. Protecting black lives in New Orleans requires more than decrees and reforms and more than acknowledging progress from a miserably low bar. Making #BlackLivesMatter in New Orleans requires dismantling prisons, eliminating racially targeted policing and incarceration, and building power in the Black community to control the officers who police their streets.

Key Recovery Data

5 There are 5 times as many Black inmates in Louisiana prisons as Whites, even though the state’s general population of Blacks is only half that of Whites.
196 The number of new deputies hired to work in Orleans Parish Prison in 2014.
100 The number of the 196 deputies hired in 2014 at Orleans Parish Prison who resigned or were terminated the same year.
3 The number of officers who gave false statements in the police shooting death of Wendell Allen, an unarmed Black man.
0 The amount of days of suspension and/or pay docked for the officers who gave false statements.

FIND OUT MORE Louisiana sees prison population fall, but maintains the highest incarceration rate in the United States (The Times Picayune, September 16, 2014)
DOJ Consent Decree on Orleans Parish Prison
DOJ Consent Decree on NOPD