Judge Desiree Charbonnet Creates Alternative Program To Break The Prison Cycle

NEW ORLEANS – In a judicial system marked by repeat offenders and endless incarcerations, one New Orleans judge is intervening to create a lasting change. Judge Desiree Charbonnet has partnered with Women With A Vision and the Orleans Public Defenders Office to create Crossroads, a diversion court for individuals charged with prostitution.

         According to a 2007 study by the Vera Institute of Justice, jail time does not effectively deter crimes rooted in social issues like addiction, poverty and mental illness. Having worked in the justice system for more than eight years, Judge Charbonnet recognized early on that many nonviolent defendants were stuck in a vicious cycle. Following an initial appearance in court, many individuals do not return for various reasons. If they cannot afford to pay issued fines or don’t see the value in returning, they miss their court date, a warrant is issued and the cycle begins.

         “When you look at that one person with 20 arrests in one year, taking that one person out of the system makes a huge difference,” said Judge Charbonnet. “Jail is not the right place for the mentally ill.”

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         After struggling to identify the resources available to embrace these individuals, Judge Charbonnet partnered with the Public Defenders Office, which received a federal grant to work with Women With a Vision to create Crossroads, a diversion court for nonviolent offenders. The program aims to eradicate the cycle of prostitution, arrests and incarceration by offering a nonjudgmental, supportive community that puts each individual on a successful path – and removes the need to plea guilty.

         The program tackles issues such as locating proper health care, housing, job training and group counseling. Upon program completion, the District Attorney will dismiss the charges, and Judge Charbonnet hands each individual a framed certificate.

         According to Judge Charbonnet, creating this positive experience through the judicial system is a key component for the individual’s continued success. “Many of these individuals have never had a formal ceremony for completing anything,” she said. “The courtroom claps, and for the graduate, that’s an entire room of people recognizing them for their success.”

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         For more information visit wwav-no.org/programs


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