For far too long, New Orleans has been ground zero for unfairness in the criminal legal system. As the most incarcerated city in the world, and the city that has produced the most exonerations in the world, it is no secret that the criminal legal system in New Orleans is in need of major reform. This broken system has doubled down on mass-producing convictions and overcriminalization, but has failed to increase safety for families in our city. As a Black male District Attorney in the South, DA Williams is particularly sensitive to the disparities that exist within the criminal legal system.
Upon taking office, DA Williams launched the office’s first ever Civil Rights Division in order to address past harm and injustice, increase the transparency and accountability of criminal justice officials, and prosecute those who exploit vulnerable communities by abusing economic or political power. Within this division, we launched the Undoing Jim Crow Juries Civil Rights Initiative to begin repairing 120+ years of injustice by methodically and efficiently reviewing all applications to the court of cases where persons were convicted by a non-unanimous jury. Additionally, the Civil Rights Division reviews cases of wrongful convictions and excessive sentences. We have exonerated a number of individuals mistreated by the criminal legal system, including Jermaine Hudson, who spent over 20 years in prison for a crime that never occurred; Betty Broaden, who spent nearly four decades in prison wrongfully convicted of murder after defending herself against a sexual predator; and Guy Frank, who spent 20 years in prison for stealing two shirts.
We are also working on a number of other ways to bring reform to New Orleans. In order to focus resources and energy on pursuing the most violent offenders, we have refused to prosecute many low-level drug possession offenses. In the pursuit of justice for those who lost their lives in the unfortunate Hard Rock collapse, we have convened a special unit of prosecutors to gather and assess evidence of any criminality leading up to the event.
We also launched the office’s first Cold Case Unit. Purposed around getting murderers off the streets and bringing healing to families, this unit targets cold cases by revisiting past data and information, putting fresh eyes on evidence originally found to be a part of the case, and reexamining behaviors to ensure the DA’s Office is doing everything possible to secure justice for victims and families.