NOLA’s Reentry Court was ahead of its time with reform

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NEW ORLEANS — Reforms in policing and prisons are big topics these days but back in 2010, two New Orleans judges forged a program that would become a model for sentencing reform.

Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White is a former prosecutor and defense attorney and she saw the cycle of people getting trapped in the legal system.

According to White, “I couldn’t believe the problems they(ex-offenders) faced coming back into the community. From either not having a GED or driver’s license to all the things, and I said we’ve got to do more because I lost several people back into the system within a short time.”

In 2010, White, along with former judge Arthur Hunter co-founded the Reentry Court Program as a sentencing mechanism. This program could not only reduce one’s sentence, but more importantly, could equip ex-offenders with tools to succeed once they were released from prison.

White also spoke of a unique angle in communication with prisoners, “I knew that the key was to have lifers at the penitentiary to provide them mentoring.”

Clients in the program are required to get a GED equivalent and 2 trade certifications before release.

Judge Marcus DeLarge is now the supervising judge and he says they’ve also had to grow the program to fit today’s needs.

“Now we’re getting these guys the computer skills to and those tech-savvy skills so they actually apply for jobs and those technical computer skills are just necessary to function in society today,” explained DeLarge.

Mark Walters Jr. is a peer supporter who meets with clients weekly. He’s also an ex-offender who says that while shelter and employment are important, someone who’s been locked up needs more support.

According to Walters, My role is the mentoring piece and the leadership development piece because if they’re not developed as individuals. We can give them a job and a place to stay but they won’t sustain it.”

Reentry Court is a herculean effort that includes the institutions and supports services with the goal in sight of seeing the formerly incarcerated succeed.

White said, “One of the reasons for this program was to prevent victimization in the future. Not only victimization in the community from the crimes that these individuals committed but also the victimization of their own families.”

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