Chief public defender: Vote tomorrow for judges willing to back sentencing reform

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Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton

New Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton

Judicial elections present an opportunity to change Louisiana’s status as the world’s leader in incarceration. Decades of “tough on crime” policies at the state and national levels have left us with overcrowded prisons and expensive prison bills.

While a much-needed conversation about sentencing reform and ending mass incarceration is finally happening at the state level, the results have yet to follow.

Fortunately, we can do more than wait.

The hundreds of cases processed each day at Criminal District, Municipal and Juvenile courts, have repercussions not just for the defendants, but for everyone in the community, our safety and the use of our tax dollars. Though public perception has come around, tough-on-crime rhetoric can still win elections over fairness. The judges we elect to these courts are the custodians of all our best interests. It is up to the voters to ensure judges hear the right message.

The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) represent over 85 percent of individuals charged with a crime in Orleans Parish. All of them are poor and disadvantaged and most of them face prosecution for nonviolent offenses involving no victims.

OPD attorneys and staff do all we can on a limited budget to protect the constitutional rights of our clients.  We continue to identify alternatives to incarceration that transform our clients into productive citizens outside the turnstiles of the criminal justice system.  We fight for liberty for the innocent and for sentences that fit the crime, asking judges not to sentence poor, illiterate, nonviolent drug abusers to 20 years in prison.

We need your help.  We need you to be vigilant over the courtrooms. They belong to the citizens of New Orleans, not to any one individual.  We need voters to let it be known that they want decency and fairness in the treatment of their fellow citizens and law upheld.

We need New Orleanians to pay attention and vote for the judicial candidates who best represent their idea of justice and fairness. Our criminal justice system must be held accountable if we are to see any reform of misguided and antiquated policies.

Derwyn Bunton is the Chief District Defender of Orleans Parish. He can be reached at

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