Ask anyone from New Orleans and they will tell you the city has not been the same since the storm. Although the city has persevered through many storms and hurricanes in its three-hundred-year history, this particular storm—Hurricane Katrina—is notorious for the transformation it brought to New Orleans in the years that followed.

The makeup, culture, and rhythm of New Orleans have changed, but so too have the various systems that give the city its tempo—particularly the criminal legal system. Hurricane Katrina was a disaster that revealed deficiencies, abnormalities, and injustices in the New Orleans criminal legal system. Some responses to these revelations were criticized and some were supported, and what we have today in 2020—fifteen years after the storm—is a city that is not the same.

To understand the change in the city’s criminal legal system, we will start by looking at how the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) came to work in New Orleans, then we will review Vera’s involvement in various efforts to reduce the jail size—in population and in structure. Finally, we will list some lessons learned since Vera began its work in New Orleans.



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