Nearly 140 days ago, I stood on the steps of the New Orleans Criminal District Court and shared my recommendations for court actors to improve our criminal legal system. In fewer than 80 days, we will close out the calendar year and evaluate if these recommendations were implemented. Before I let the data speak, I’d like to share what I’ve witnessed this year.

Our community continues to distrust the criminal legal system and the police force. New Orleans leads the nation in wrongful incarcerations per capita, and Louisiana has one of the highest per-capita rates of wrongful convictions in the country. We also lead the nation in both incarceration rates and public corruption convictions.

Hurricane Ida and COVID-19 demonstrated that our access to basic human needs like food and shelter is not a certainty, especially not for the most vulnerable among us. While individuals, governments and organizations admirably step up provide these physical resources, it’s important to remember those needing help in the often-hidden places: our city’s courtrooms.

In 62% of cases observed by court watchers in 2020, neither the judge nor the prosecutor mentioned the victim during a court proceeding at all, even though 71% of arrests were victim crimes.

These statistics are the result of a lack of victim-centered justice. Victim-centered justice, defined as the systematic focus on the needs of the crime survivor, ensures no crime survivor falls through the cracks.

Whether it be an increase in public access to court hearings or additional funding allocated towards victim recovery, more attention must be dedicated towards victims in our community.

SIMONE LEVINE

executive director, CourtWatchNOLA

New Orleans