March 9, 2018
Know Your Vote: Voters Organized Announces Endorsed Candidates
Louisiana holds more elections than anywhere else, so it is important to stay engaged regardless of how much hype, dollars or prestige surround a day at the polls. This time around, here in Southern Louisiana, Voters Organized to Educate has been following three key races in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. These elected officials are in a position to impact people’s lives through the criminal justice system, so it is important that they be people who indicate a desire to respond to the whole community’s needs. This includes the needs of people who have survived criminal activity and people who have been arrested or convicted as well. Often, families have members who fall into both categories, and many times a single person holds both experiences. Here are our picks for leaders who present an opportunity to promote a sustainable Louisiana.
State Representative, New Orleans D-93: Royce Duplessis
Mr. Duplessis has built a solid reputation as an engaged community member in New Orleans. After going from Xavier to Howard for his law degree, he has put his knowledge and skills to work on behalf of others- including mentoring through the Silverback Society. He speaks intelligently on budget and criminal justice reform, recognizing the role that economic opportunities, public health and public education held in the cycles of mass incarceration costing Louisiana far more than the over $1 billion annually for prisons, jails, courts, and police. His experience on the city planning committee, and as chief of staff for a city councilman, will serve his constituents well in Baton Rouge, where it takes more political tact than ‘being right’ to get things accomplished. We feel confident that Royce Duplessis will be a strong an effective advocate for addressing the root causes of crime and recidivism.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff: John Fortunato
Although it may come as a surprise to some that a group focusing on criminal justice reform is endorsing a sheriff, the reality is that we want a world where we work with, not against, our sheriffs, judges, district attorneys, and police chiefs. Mr. Fortunato is a career employee of Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and has the first-hand experience to approach the problems of mass incarceration. He is someone not shy about using the “Tough on Crime” rhetoric, but we also see him as someone well-positioned to create positive change. Jails receive many people who are struggling with addiction, mental health, physical impairments, trauma, and homelessness. People held in jail are almost all pre-trial (and still presumed innocent of the charges) or serving short sentences for lower-level crimes. Traditionally, jails have not been provided any more resources than the most basic food and a cage. However, there is a window of crisis intervention where public health professionals can help. It is important for everyone at JPSO to recognize that the people in the jail are our neighbors and, at times, our family members. After hearing from a diverse range of community members in Jefferson Parish, we believe Mr. Fortunato represents the best chance to marshall the rare resources to restore our community.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court: Ellen Hazeur
Ms. Hazeur brings a multi-faceted background to her bid for joining the judiciary, particularly her two terms in City Council and her time as a First City Court Clerk. Many of the top judges began at the civil court level, and bring their life and career experiences with them. We need a judiciary that understands systemic issues, and recognizes the need for collaborative solutions, because the history of mass incarceration has been built upon maximum consequences for individuals- over and over and over again, typically without spending a moment to even understand how the situation came to be. No judge has ever said, “I would send you to prison, but we have no more cells available;” yet it is a common refrain for courts and lawyers to bemoan the lack of diversion and programs. Ellen Hazeur has been vocal in her support for mental health and addiction support services, and if we are ever going to shift our budgets from lengthy incarceration to treatment, it will take the political will of everyone. We feel confident that Ellen Hazeur will be responsive to the community, and a solid choice to put on the bench.