Monday, November 26, 2007

Katrina and Justice

Our friend Teri Carns from up there in AK (Alaska, not Arkansas) sends this along, remembering the folks interested in the topic at the recent National Association of Sentencing Commissions conference. The theme of the presentation at the conference was the effect disasters can have on justice systems, which this updates.

Justice in New Orleans
Caterina Gouvis Roman, Seri Irazola, Jenny Osborne
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Posted to Web: August 28, 2007
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The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full paper in PDF format.

This report provides a comprehensive review of the acute and lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina on the criminal justice system of New Orleans. Using interviews with criminal justice stakeholders living and working in greater New Orleans, the authors examine the state of the criminal justice system before the storm, the impact of the storm on each branch of the system, and how those branches operate today. The final sections of the report discuss policy considerations and how lessons learned from Katrina can be applied to assist jurisdictions across the country should they be confronted with natural or man-made shocks to the systems charged with keeping residents safe.


As the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the news media continues to document high levels of violence and disorder across New Orleans neighborhoods. Stories document with regularity a criminal justice system in disarray1—homicide suspects freed due to constitutional violations of due process, arrested suspects awaiting trial for months without seeing a lawyer, police investigators working out of trailers, and a court backlog of thousands of cases. With the seemingly endless barrage of media highlighting the disorganization, it becomes difficult for the public to sort through rhetoric and hyperbole and grasp the current state of New Orleans’s criminal justice system. Did Hurricane Katrina wash away the criminal justice system, as some have asserted (Garrett and Tetlow 2006)? Has the multiagency system emerged from the disarray? Which components remain neglected? Where has progress been made? This report attempts to shed light on public safety and the administration of justice in New Orleans and surrounding jurisdictions; to separate fact from fiction; and to document the impact Hurricane Katrina had on public safety and the criminal justice system. We focus predominantly on Orleans Parish, which makes up the city of New Orleans, and on criminal justice agencies operating within Orleans Parish.

It is not a secret that, before Katrina, the New Orleans criminal justice system had long been plagued with inefficiencies and structural barriers that interfered with the fair administration of justice. Before Katrina, almost all criminal justice system agencies in New Orleans faced substantial funding problems and had been repeatedly criticized for weak management. Under the administration of an often poorly functioning criminal justice system, New Orleans was considered one of the most violent cities in the country.

The aftermath of the hurricane has provided and continues to provide a unique opportunity for criminal justice stakeholders to assess and reassess the situation as the city repairs the damages—damages due to Katrina and damages from before Katrina. The lessons learned from Katrina have relevance beyond the Gulf Coast in that they can assist jurisdictions around the country should they be confronted with natural or man-made shocks to the systems that are devoted to keeping residents safe.

For readers not well versed in the vernacular of criminal justice, the criminal justice system is a multicomponent system, primarily made up of three parts—police, courts, and corrections—together designed to maintain social control, deter and control crime, and punish those guilty of violating the law. Courts and corrections each have their own subsections—prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges are responsible for the administration of justice through the court system. Corrections consists of institutional corrections (i.e., prisons and jails) and community corrections (i.e., parole and probation) for those under state or local supervision but serving their sentences outside institutions.

1 The reports and stories highlighting the disarray are too numerous to cite. A few recent ones include Garrett and Tetlow (2006), McCarthy (2007), Nossiter and Drew (2007), and Shapiro (2007).

(End of excerpt. The entire paper is available in PDF format.)

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