NEW ORLEANS – Today, District Attorney Williams, joined by United States Congressman Troy Carter and other community stakeholders announced more than $2.3 million in federal grant funding from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Awarded specifically to the OPDA’s Civil Rights Division (CRD), these funds will be used in part to advance the office’s mission of increasing safety and delivering justice by increasing DNA testing and cold case investigations to help identify the correct violent perpetrators and restore trust in the criminal legal system.
“In this fight against the current crime surge in New Orleans, we must be smart. In addition to prosecuting cases, laser-focusing on violent crimes and holding violent offenders accountable, we have to be smart about partnering with national leaders like Congressman Carter, tapping into additional resources like those provided by the DOJ, and collaborating with community-based organizations to ensure we are attacking this problem at all angles,” said DA Williams. “There is work to do in New Orleans and this support helps us to improve and develop resources and opportunities to make our city safer.”
Managed by the BJA, the four grants were awarded by four funding programs including 1.) Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence, 2.) Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations and Training and Technical Assistance, 3.) Innovations in Reentry Initiative: Building System Capacity & Testing Strategies to Reduce Recidivism and 4.) Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions Site Based and Training and Technical Assistance.
United States Congressman Troy A. Carter Sr. said, “When crimes go unsolved, and innocent people are put in prison people lose faith in the criminal justice system and criminals believe they can act with impunity. That’s why I am proud to have assisted in providing resources to assist in clearing our DNA testing backlog, investigate cold cases and prevent wrongful convictions. Alongside programs to reduce recidivism, these resources will expand law enforcement’s capacity to protect the community while ensuring the justice system is truly providing justice.”
POST CONVICTION DNA TESTING OF EVIDENCE PROGRAM
Totaling $574,636, OPDA received a three-year grant from the BJA’s Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence program to support the office’s work around DNA testing in postconviction review of violent felony offenses and ascertaining accurate evidence to secure the correct conviction. Supported by Congressman Troy Carter and State Representative Royce Duplessis, these funds will ultimately elevate the office’s work of 1.) securing real justice for victims by ensuring that the people who have caused serious harm are accurately identified and held accountable, and 2.) delivering justice for those wrongly-convicted.
Louisiana State Representative Royce Duplessis said, “Having the funding to improve OPDA’s Post Conviction DNA Testing Evidence Program is a critical step to making New Orleans a leader in mitigating the consequences of a broken criminal justice system. It is estimated that 2% to 10% of people serving time in the United States prison system were wrongfully convicted. This program allows us to bring justice to those incarcerated for a crime they did not commit and can help victims find closure by knowing the true perpetrator will be held liable. Taking advantage of this DNA science is going to help us restore trust in the criminal justice system.”
EMMETT TILL COLD CASE INVESTIGATIONS AND TRAINING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
Totaling $500,000, OPDA received a three-year grant from the BJA’s Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations And Training And Technical Assistance program to launch and implement the Undoing Jim Crow Cold Cases Initiative. Supported by Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, State Representative Royce Duplessis, Southern University Law Center Professor Angela Bell and Xavier University of Louisiana Professor Helen Malmgren, the purpose of this initiative is to review, investigate and prosecute unsolved homicide cold case murders, occurring before 1980, suspected of having been racially motivated. Also, the initiative will include support for victims’ families and stakeholders impacted by these cases.
Southern University Law Center Professor Angela Bell said, “The Emmitt Till Cold Case Investigations and Training and Technical Assistance Grant perfectly comports with the noble aims of restorative and transitional justice, judicious alternatives to retributive punishment and fitting responses to the overall failures of the current justice system. This funding presents a belated opportunity to situate crime and conflict in its proper context−as harm to people as opposed to violations of law. In so doing, it presents an opportunity to establish critical community partnerships. Practically speaking, the grant offers the resources to investigate unsolved murders, resulting in accountability, harm assessments and/or reparation. It creates opportunities to increase community safety while, simultaneously, reducing recidivism by addressing the cause of transgressions. It accomplishes the goals of truth-telling and memorialization, which, in turn, allows for healing, reconciliation and the development of trust in official actors. It offers the potential for law and policy changes that could prevent future recurrences of official abuses and failures. This initiative is groundbreaking and timely and it offers a potential template for replication at a time when the need in this nation is palpable.”
Xavier University of Louisiana Investigative Stories Program Director Helen Malmgren said, “What the DA’s Office has proposed is not only to investigate these unsolved murders but also, as they do so, to seek out the stories of families, neighborhoods, and communities who’ve been shaken by them. It’s an extraordinary project, and we look forward to supporting it.”
UPHOLDING THE RULE OF LAW AND PREVENTING WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS SITE BASED AND TRAINING AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
Totaling $300,000, OPDA received a two-year grant from the BJA’s Upholding The Rule Of Law And Preventing Wrongful Convictions Site Based And Training And Technical Assistance program. Studies show that public safety is not improved when someone is wrongly-convicted. In fact, it decreases public safety because the real perpetrator is left to reoffend and the public’s faith in the criminal legal system, that it can accurately hold people accountable, is diminished. And as the city with the most exonerations, New Orleans has experienced the harm of wrongful convictions. To increase public safety by improving public trust, this grant will support the office’s work around identifying and undoing wrongful convictions in New Orleans. Specifically, the OPDA will closely collaborate with Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) to implement the Orleans Parish Conviction Accuracy and Integrity Project: Orleans Parish Justice Project. With the ultimate goal of making neighborhoods safer, the project will tackle past harms as well as work to prevent future harm.
Innocence Project New Orleans Executive Director Jee Park said, “With our partners at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office and with immense gratitude to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, IPNO looks forward to amplifying our work of reviewing, investigating and overturning the cases of innocent people from Orleans Parish.”
INNOVATIONS IN REENTRY INITIATIVE: BUILDING SYSTEM CAPACITY & TESTING STRATEGIES TO REDUCE RECIDIVISM
Totaling $1 million, the OPDA received a four-year grant from the BJA’s Innovations In Reentry Initiative: Building System Capacity & Testing Strategies To Reduce Recidivism program. In DA Williams’ first year in office, OPDA began saving the state approximately $5 million in tax payer dollars annually by vacating the sentences of people who had been wronged or forgotten by the criminal legal system. With each of those people having served more than 20 years of a life or life equivalent sentence, OPDA recognized the need for appropriate reentry support and services to ensure they are appropriately reoriented back into society. In partnership with the First 72+ and the Louisiana Parole Project, this grant will support the convening of a task force that will be responsible for reentrants who have been released as a result of the work of the CRD. This grant is expected to serve a population of reentrants who have typically spent more time incarcerated than the average reentry client and will be in need of enhanced services to address specific needs.
The First 72+ Co-Executive Director Chad A. Sanders said, “The First 72+ is committed to ending mass incarceration by providing care and support to returning citizens. Our work of offering housing, employment and a community to grow in is critical to today’s conversation about healing and public safety. Our work has been accelerated and maximized by our strong partnerships with DA Williams and Congressman Carter.”
Louisiana Parole Project Executive Director Andrew Hundley said, “We stand with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office in the prioritization of public safety. Our organization commits to helping men and women successfully transition back to our community after they have served their sentence. When justice-impacted people reach their full potential, we all benefit from their prosperity.”
The DA’s Office’s mission is, and will always be, to increase safety and deliver justice. These grant opportunities help OPDA’s work of creating safer communities by helping the office to rebuild public trust. Studies show that in order to make safer neighborhoods and families, community engagement is paramount. The goal is to use each of these grants to create trust in OPDA by showing community that this office is focused on being fair and building a criminal legal system that serves all people.
For more on these funding programs, please visit bja.ojp.gov.
OPDA CRD Chief Emily Maw said, “We are grateful for the support of the DOJ as well as the many community partners who advocated for our office to receive this funding. Whether it be improving our work around DNA testing or helping us to solve more cold cases, we are focused on ensuring the right people are held accountable so that we can increase safety in New Orleans.”
DA CONTINUES REQUEST TO THE MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL TO ALLOCATE AVAILABLE FEDERAL FUNDS TO SURGE BACK ON CRIME THROUGH PREVENTION & ENFORCEMENT
This funding does not replace the important request DA Williams has made to Mayor Cantrell and the New Orleans City Council to fund additional ADAs, increased DNA testing capacity and Cold Case Unit to improve the office’s ability to work with police to gather more evidence and build strong cases. These dollars from the DOJ have specific purposes and the OPDA will respect its intended use. We urge the Mayor and City Council to use the available federal funds to make immediate investments in our office, police, courts as well as proven community-based prevention and intervention programs.