Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $1,000,000)
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office (OPDA), under the leadership of Jason Williams, is committed to addressing the excessive sentencing practices and racist policies of former administrations that led to Orleans Parish, Louisiana having the highest per capita incarceration rate of any parish in the most incarcerated state in the United States. Following his inauguration, Williams’ first public appointment was to hire the former director of Innocence Project New Orleans to build and run a Civil Rights Division (CRD). The Mission of the CRD is to reduce past harm done to vulnerable communities by the State in the criminal legal system—including by its failure to provide essential services to people of color—and to build a culture of integrity within OPDA’s office that prevents future harm.
The CRD has a broad mandate but limited resources: in addition to wrongful conviction review, it must tackle the extreme sentences that have routinely been doled out to poor people of color in New Orleans, convictions obtained through the Jim Crow law that allowed non-unanimous juries in Louisiana, and convictions obtained by State overreach or misconduct. The CRD is leading the Undoing Jim Crow Juries Civil Rights Initiative; an effort to review the cases of individuals from Orleans Parish convicted based on Louisiana’s Reconstruction-era law permitting non-unanimous jury verdicts, investigate those where guilt may be at issue, and resolve as many cases as justice requires.
These efforts have meant, and will continue to mean, that significantly more people from New Orleans who were previously serving sentences with little hope of release are being released than ever before. This means there is a significantly increased need for enhanced reentry services for people who have spent a much longer time incarcerated than the typical Reentry Court client. It demands that the reentry systems in Orleans Parish are working efficiently for formerly incarcerated individuals who will now have a chance at reestablishing their lives after sometimes spending decades behind bars. There is no more critical time to focus on re-entry services in New Orleans.
In response to this need, the OPDA will convene a Task Force to conduct a landscape scan of the current reentry services available in Orleans Parish. The Task Force will specifically address barriers and gaps in services for reentrants who have been released as a result of the work of the CRD. This subset of the target population will have spent more time incarcerated than the average reentry client and will be in need of enhanced services to address specific needs. During the funding period of the grant, the Task Force will provide reentry solutions to a bare minimum of 150 reentry clients (those coming home through the efforts of the CRD, and other avenues). Targeted services will begin during the pre-release phase and continue post-release. Data will be collected on each cohort of clients over the three years following the planning phase of the proposed project.