Racial Justice Iniatives

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City of New Orleans and Total Community Action Awarded $474K to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Inequities in Justice System

NEW ORLEANS — The City of New Orleans today announced the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Coordination (OCJC) and Total Community Action, Inc. (TCA) are the recipients of a $474K grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to deepen the push to eliminate racial and ethnic inequities in New Orleans’ local criminal legal system. This grant is a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a $300 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal legal systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.  

The City of New Orleans was one of four jurisdictions selected to join the SJC’s Racial Equity Cohort and will work in partnership with local community organizations to focus on racial and ethnic equity in the criminal legal system. The City will use lived experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) citizens and those impacted by the criminal legal system to authentically engage the community. 

This funding will provide OCJC and TCA with training and technical assistance, peer-to-peer support from other cohort members and qualitative and quantitative data and analytic backing. As co-leads, OCJC and TCA will address national and local drivers of racial inequities. 

As part of the Racial Equity Cohort, OCJC and TCA will create a citywide blueprint for advancing racial justice to reimagine criminal legal system reform — a strategy that will center data-driven analysis and community engagement. The planning and implementation process will engage a diverse group of community-based organizations and community leaders to gather direct input that will assist in implementing action strategies. The work will compliment and draw from racial equity efforts initiated in 2021 by OCJC’s Ethnic and Racial Disparity Working Group and contribute to existing efforts by community partners to advance racial justice. 

The creation of the Racial Equity Cohort is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to centering racial equity and the voices of citizens most impacted by the  criminal legal system. The new funding will support more intentional and effective strategies to eliminate institutional and systemic racism, utilizing a multi-faceted and multi-system approach to achieving racial equity and justice.  

“This grant award is another important step to continuing to pursue our vision of centering racial justice and making strides to reduce racial inequities within our local criminal legal system. It takes all of us to hold our criminal legal system accountable to be fair and equitable and provide comprehensive justice for people at each point in the system," said Criminal Justice Commissioner Tenisha Stevens. "The City of New Orleans is excited about this opportunity to partner with Total Community Action, a pillar in our community, to uplift and center the voices of people most impacted by the criminal legal to create solutions to systemically eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the Orleans Parish criminal legal system, while advancing and justice and community safety for all of our citizens."

“TCA welcomes this unique opportunity to collaborate with the City of New Orleans and the Safety and Justice Challenge to convene, connect, and mobilize our community in addressing the racial and ethnic disparities in our local criminal justice system,” said Thelma H. French, President & CEO of TCA.  

“While the Safety and Justice Challenge has been successful in reducing local jail populations, it has also taught us that this alone will not eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Laurie Garduque, the MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Criminal Justice. “By pairing the leadership of people most impacted by mass incarceration with the expertise of government partners, we hope this cohort of jurisdictions will challenge systemic racism in our justice systems and create policies and practices to sustain long-term change.” 

The four cities and counties selected to participate in the Racial Equity Cohort are Cook County (IL), New Orleans (LA), Philadelphia (PA) and Pima County (AZ). The participating community partners are Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (Cook County), Total Community Action (New Orleans), Why Not Prosper (Philadelphia), the Center for Carceral Communities at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and the YWCA of Southern Arizona (Pima County). 

The Center for Court Innovation will be the coordinator for the full cohort of grantees and provide logistical, administrative and fiscal support. Several of the nation's leading policy research and criminal justice organizations will also provide technical assistance and counsel to the SJC Racial Equality Cohort jurisdictions, including the Haywood Burns Institute, Nexus Community Partners, Everyday Democracy, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Race Forward and the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance. JustLeadershipUSA, Policy Research Associates and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association will also be participating as part of the initiatives racial equity cohort steering committee. 

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Ethnic and Racial Disparity Working Group

About the ERD Working Group

In October of 2020, the Ethnic and Racial Disparity Working Group was formed in partnership with the VERA Institute of Justice. The Working Group is supported by technical assistance provided by the VERA Institute of Justice, the MacArthur Foundation, and the 2020-2021 OCJC AmeriCorps VISTA. There are 34 members of the Group, half representing government agencies and half being non-agency/community members. The ERD Working Group is tasked with setting specific, measurable, and achievable goals to reduce criminal legal system involvement for adult and juveniles of historically and presently underserved populations, specifically Black, Indigenous, People of Color. To meet these goals the Group applies an intersectional approach to best understand, analyze, and address structural and systemic discrimination for historically and presently marginalized and vulnerable populations, including womxn and LGBTQIA+, within the Orleans Parish criminal legal system.For ten months, the Ethnic and Racial Disparity (ERD) Working Group met to create specific, measurable, and achievable policies, practices, and initiatives to increase racial equity within the Orleans Parish criminal legal system. The ERD Recommendation Report, released in July of 2021 and adopted by the CJC on the 28th, is the product of that effort. 

ERD Working Group Recommendation Report

The report provides an opportunity for reflection and opportunity to look ahead as it provides recommendations that center racial equity in existing reforms, including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Prosecutorial Diversion, as well as recommendations that move beyond reform work to invest in organizations and efforts that prevent criminal legal system involvement for overrepresented and underserved populations, specifically Black, Indigenous, People of Color.