Yesterday I brought the Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance to your attention, and promised that today I would outline the first initiative they’ve implemented: the Expedited Screening and Disposition Initiative.
I have questions galore about this. I hope this raises some questions in your mind as well. My first question is when did anyone other than this select group have input into this initiative?
This initiative grew out of statistics stating that one-third of drug arrests in the city are for simple drug possession. Contributing to a call for this initiative was the fact that both the police and the district attorney’s office often waited until the end of the time allotted by statute to complete police paperwork and make a decision to accept or reject charges.
This initiative is directed at all simple possession drug charges in which there are no other accompanying state charges (for now).
The goal of this initiative is to reduce the period from arrest to arraignment from the 45 to 60 days that has been the norm, to approximately six to eight days. That’s a lot of time for a process to streamline without major change management initiatives accompanying the change!
Under this initiative, each of the agencies committed to certain actions. This I have to see to believe!
The NOPD committed to identifying anyone who falls under the Initiative criteria and to stamp EXPEDITED on both the gist and face sheet before transferring custody at Central Lockup.
Fine and dandy. Does the arresting officer, while he/she may know what the current charge is really know the rap sheet and any outstanding charges prior to bringing an arrestee to Central Lockup? If not, how do they identify someone who fits the Initiative criteria to know whether to use this EXPEDITED stamp. (Note: nothing has been expedited yet. In fact, an additional step has been added. Does every NOPD officer now carry one of these stamps in their back pocket? If not, where do they go to get this stamp?)
The NOPD also committed to writing, reviewing and approving arrest reports and field test reports AND electronically transmitting them to the District Attorney’s screening division within 48 hours of the arrest.
The third commitment by NOPD is to respond in a timely fashion to requests by the District Attorney’s screening division to confer on any of these transmitted reports.
I have some real questions on the ability to meet this timing given that we have some calls waiting for an officer for up to six hours on a regular basis.
Moving on. The District Attorney’s office has committed to making a screening decision within 24 hours of receiving the completed police report including field test, the discussion of the case between the screening attorney and the arresting officer and receipt of the full criminal record of the defendant.
DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER WILL ROBINSON! (For those too young to remember, check old reruns of Lost in Space for the reference.)
How long does it actually take to get those full criminal records? Depending on the answer to that, we could already be well beyond the 6 to 8 days. When is the arresting officer supposed to hold this meeting with the screening attorney (and still be on the streets to find more of these initiative clients)?
The District Attorney’s office also committed to sending notification emails to several areas: NOPD, New Orleans Public Defender’s Initiative Leader and the office of Clerk of Court’s Initiative Leader. Well and good.
However, the DA will also, under this initiative, empower the screening division to directly negotiate with defense counsel to facilitate disposition, if appropriate, by arraignment, including charge and bill status reductions.
Whoa, Nelly! If it’s a simple drug possession, what are we reducing to? Jaywalking? Is this a quick way to keep the number of cases adjudicated to a minimum? If so, I don’t think I like it! If you play, you pay!
The Public Defenders also committed to appointing counsel, meeting their client, investigate cases as appropriate between first appearance and arraignment, counsel clients and negotiate with the screening attorney. Investigate??? Do they do that? Or do they just try to get their clients less jail time?
The Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office made its commitments as well, including producing the prisoners at the right times and providing rooms/spaces for interviews. All fine and good and typical.
BUT – there is also a commitment of providing Orleans Public Defenders with access to the AS400 system in a form that will allow them to retrieve, to use, and to organize information about their clients’ cases. First of all, AS400?? Isn’t that a bit antiquated? Okay, it’s New Orleans. What was I thinking?
Here’s the real issue with the AS400: the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office also committed to modifying the AS400 system, as necessary and appropriate, to meet the Initiative’s information management needs. Who’s doing this and with what money???
I’m sorry. But my brain is swirling with all of the what if’s in this thing. Has it been put into action? What have the results been? Who’s measuring this? WHEN WERE WE SUPPOSED TO FIND OUT ABOUT IT?
I can’t say I’m floored. This is so typical of New Orleans criminal justice. But it’s something I think we need to look further into, especially since this process is proposed to be used on other types of charges in the future. And it is yet another example of how citizen apathy and lack of transparency in our processes might just get ahead of us until they are too far along to stop. Remember – simple drug possession is just the first type of charge they want to put under this initiative. And if there are this many questions with this charge, what happens when they try to implement it with other types of criminal charges?