- Monday, 16 November 2015
New Orleans – The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) announced the implementation of anticipated furloughs for all staff due to continued funding shortages. Today, criminal justice stakeholders were provided notice of the actual furlough days and subsequent closure of the OPD offices for 10 days beginning February 2016. No public defenders will be available in any court. Additionally, OPD will not staff first appearances in any courts. While the timeframe was not nearly as severe as feared, the 10 days will cause substantial delays within the criminal justice system.
“We did not make this decision lightly and we regret the problems this will undoubtedly cause for our clients and our community," said Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton, “but we simply don’t have enough money to operate at full capacity. We have been warning decision makers about the potential fallout for some time now. No one should be surprised.”
- Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Public defense in New Orleans is at a critical crossroads. While the recent announcement of a $150,000 increase to our 2016 appropriation was a welcome renewed commitment to OPD, we still remain drastically under-funded and outresourced compared to other criminal justice entities and face a continued budget shortfall. This threatens our community's right to an open and honest, efficient and effective criminal justice system.
The Orleans Public Defenders play a critical role in protecting the rights and well-being of our community, reducing recidivism by connecting people to jobs and services, and ensuring our criminal justice system remains fair and just, especially for New Orleans' poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
We make our final case for equal justice before the New Orleans City Council Thursday morning. We are asking for your support. Attend our budget hearing. Call your council representative and Mayor Landrieu to demand full funding for OPD and parity within our criminal justice system. If you haven't yet, please sign our petition.
The current funding crisis is brought about in part from systemic, structural underfunding; budget cuts by the state; and declining local revenue. And while the City of New Orleans provides direct support for OPD, our appropriation is one-sixth of the support provided to the District Attorney’s office – and even less when compared to other criminal justice agencies. While OPD handles 85% of all criminal cases in New Orleans, OPD’s budget remains just one-third the budget of the District Attorney’s office.
To create and maintain a public defense system that contributes to the goals of the city's criminal justice policy – reducing over-incarceration, connecting the poor and mentally ill with services and jobs, advocating for the rights of incarcerated people to receive services and treatment that will reduce recidivism – then the City of New Orleans must play a more significant part in funding public defense.
New Orleans can do better. New Orleans must do better if we are to continue the strides already made toward meaningful criminal justice reform.
Thank you for your continued support.
Derwyn Bunton, Chief Defender
- Wednesday, 23 September 2015
New Orleans – On Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 10 a.m., the Orleans Public Defenders, in collaboration with Orleans Parish Municipal Court, the City Attorney’s office and the New Orleans Mission, will launch the Municipal Court at the Mission pilot program. Judge Sean Early will hold court at the New Orleans Mission in the hopes of clearing the nearly 34,000 open attachments in Municipal Court, as well as address the issue of incarcerating the homeless head on.
Of the tens of thousands of attachments outstanding, the vast majority are issued to homeless, mentally-ill or those battling substance abuse issues whose living environments are usually unstable. Once someone misses a court date, a warrant is issued and upon arrest, most spend weeks in jail simply because they can’t pay the associated fine.
- Monday, 14 September 2015
John Oliver recently addressed the abysmal state of public defense across the country on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and included OPD and past caseload struggles and our current crowdfunding campaign due to funding crisis.
"You have the right to an attorney, but our public defender system is massively overburdened. Access to an attorney is supposed to be a Constitutional right and it is increasingly under threat."