NEW ORLEANS – Following a three-hour meeting last Friday between representatives of United Way of Southeast Louisiana, the New Orleans Family Justice Center and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, we came away with a deeper understanding of the procedures, protocols and challenges faced by those who prosecute domestic violence offenders in New Orleans.
We were pleased to learn that each and every domestic violence case brought to prosecutors by police is individually screened and evaluated on its own merits. However, we were concerned to know that, there are only three assistant district attorneys covering seven sections of municipal court, each handling about 1,500 misdemeanor cases respectively.
Friday’s meeting was the first of many anticipated between stakeholders who want to ensure the multidisciplinary agency approach implemented by our nationally-recognized Family Justice Center is utilized to its fullest capacity. The agency intends to continue to work diligently to address and respond to the plethora of reasons domestic violence survivors become unwilling to participate in the prosecution of their reported abusers.
“We have the laws in place and the organizational structure to change the outcome of these cases,” said Mary Claire Landry, Executive Director of the Family Justice Center, “but we need funding for more personnel who are properly trained in the dynamics of DV across the criminal justice system to support the victims through the prosecutorial process. It is critical that the victim is treated respectfully by the DA’s office and that judges ensure that the safeguards put in place for victims through years of legislation are utilized to their fullest extent. We are pleased that the DA’s office is committed to a more substantial presence and involvement with the Family Justice Center.”
Council President Helena Moreno said, “I’m so pleased that advocates and the representatives from the District Attorney’s Office have committed to work closely together. When victims feel the system will protect them, the more likely they are to participate. I know that the City’s Health Department is also engaging in robust work around domestic violence and they too want to be part of collaboration, as does NOPD, and judges from Criminal, Municipal and Civil District courts.”
“While we recognize that the rate of victims unwilling to participate in their cases is high in Orleans Parish, it’s sadly no higher than the national average,” said Kim Sport, UWSELA Public Policy Chairman and NOFJC Criminal Justice Committee Chair, “I am pleased to re-engage with our partners to determine if there is a mechanism, similar to diversion, that can be implemented in many of the dismissed cases to keep victims safe while providing sentencing alternatives to first-time misdemeanor offenders. Believe it or not, some victims still love their abusers and, more than anything, want them to get treatment.”
About United Way of Southeast Louisiana
For 95 years, United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA) has been a leader and trusted partner in improving lives and making a lasting difference. We fight to eradicate poverty by preparing people for quality jobs, growing incomes, and affording better health and education opportunities throughout Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington parishes. We have a bold vision of equitable communities where all individuals are healthy, educated, and financially stable – and we have a plan. United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Blueprint for Prosperity guides all strategic investments in programs, initiatives, collaborations, volunteerism, and advocacy aimed at tackling poverty. For more information, please visit UnitedWaySELA.org. Find us on social: @UnitedWaySELA.
About The New Orleans Family Justice Center
New Orleans Family Justice Center is a partnership of agencies dedicated to ending family violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and stalking through prevention and coordinated response by providing comprehensive client-centered, empowerment services in a single location. Our emergency services allow survivors to get immediate support and connect with resources to increase their safety during a crisis situation. Crescent House offers immediate safe housing for people fleeing domestic violence and abuse. Our case managers and advocates help survivors understand their options, navigate systems, safety plan, understand their rights and get connected to services for support and healing. We provide a variety of free and low-cost legal services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. We have legal advocates and attorneys on staff that assist with a variety of legal issues. We also provide support to survivors who are reporting to law enforcement and support throughout criminal and civil justice processes.