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CourtWatch Finds Disparities In Sentencings

Eileen Fleming

CourtWatch NOLA  has been gathering data on the Orleans Parish criminal justice system. The group found problems that include locking up poor people for failing to pay fines, and widely varying sentences.

CourtWatch NOLA doesn’t make findings or recommendations. It just gathers the facts.

Simone Levine is executive director of Court Watch NOLA. She says transparency is essential.

“We’re electing a judge in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and also a judge in part D right here in Criminal District Court.  We need to be educated when we actually go into court," she said. "We need  to be able to vote for the person that we see as doing right by the people of New Orleans and not somebody’s brother’s cousin, as often times is the case here in New Orleans.”  

The 2015 report found people convicted of domestic abuse battery were sentenced on average to about 5 1/2 months, while those convicted of cocaine distribution or possession are getting an average of just over 9 years. And more than 2,400 people were jailed for not paying fines.

“We are presently in the middle of a federal lawsuit. If folks, don’t know, the federal lawsuit relates to imprisoning people, incarcerating people for failing to pay fines or fees. It’s unconstitutional," she said.

CourtWatch NOLA is expanding the volunteer monitoring program from Criminal District Court and Magistrate Court to include municipal courts.

Eileen is a news reporter and producer for WWNO. She researches, reports and produces the local daily news items. Eileen relocated to New Orleans in 2008 after working as a writer and producer with the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. for seven years.

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