Arthur Hunter, Jr. served as a judge in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for more than 20 years before retiring in 2020. Most of the people who came before him, he said, were in court for nonviolent offenses. Some were dealing with mental health issues or drug addiction. Others just lacked economic opportunity or education, Hunter said.
“If we put people on the right track where they receive treatment, economic opportunity and education, we will solve 75% of the problems that affect New Orleans,” Hunter said. “When you increase education and economic opportunity, you reduce crime. It’s a simple fact.”
This experience led Hunter to team up with Arlanda Williams of Delgado Community College’s Workforce Development program and Osmar Padilla of Greater New Orleans, Inc., to launch the Orleans Career Project last week. The program will provide career training in high-demand fields and an opportunity for participants to obtain a high school equivalency diploma for free through an adult education program.
“We sat down at the table to say, ‘How do we deter crime?’” said Williams, vice chancellor of Delgado Community College’s Workforce Development program. “And that is to give people hope, that is to give community development, that is education. And all of those things produce economic development.”
The city of New Orleans, like other cities around the country, has seen an increase in many types of violent crime since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, when compared to last year, homicides are down 16%, shootings are down 12%, carjackings are down 47% and armed robberies are down 24%. But though the numbers have dropped from 2022, they are significantly higher than in 2019. As of July 16, 2023 homicides are up more than 100% compared to the same point in 2019.
Studies have found a correlation between education attainment and crime. A 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit criminal justice research and advocacy group, found that 25% of formerly incarcerated people don’t have a high school diploma or GED, compared to 13% of the general population. And just 4% of formerly incarcerated people have bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to 29% of the larger population.
Hunter understands the link between crime and education. In New Orleans, “too many kids are not reading on grade level,” Hunter said.
According to the 2022-2023 Fall Literacy report from the Louisiana Department of Education, 45% of kindergarteners through third graders in Orleans Parish public schools are reading at grade level, compared to about half statewide.
High levels of poverty in the city and state likely contribute to that. A study from the Education Consumers Foundation analyzed the correlation between children receiving free and/or reduced lunch and levels of reading proficiency for third graders in New Orleans. The study found that third graders that are on the National School Lunch program are exponentially less likely to read proficiently at their grade level.
The Orleans Career Project launched on Monday, July 7, and is available for anyone aged 16 and older. The program hopes to reach high school graduates, youth aging out of foster care, formerly incarcerated individuals, veterans and anyone else that may want to change or start a new career path. The program also offers English-language learning assistance for participants who are not fluent in English.
Participants can take courses in Delgado’s workforce development program, which offers classes in welding, electrical carpentry machining, advanced manufacturing and more. The cost of tuition can be funded through scholarships attached to specific programs or waived through the Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act, a federal resource that looks to offer support for those looking to join the workforce.
Greater New Orleans, Inc., connects companies with workers and provides training for in-demand jobs. Along with Greater New Orleans, Inc., Delgado is also working with the workforce development boards for the city of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish and the American Jobs Centers system, Williams said.
“Any manufacturers that want to be a part of that conversation will come in and then we will talk to their needs and what this program would be. We can’t say, ‘Can you guarantee us a hire?’ but what we can say is, ‘Can you guarantee us at least an opportunity for an interview?’” Williams said.
The Orleans Career Project has a partnership with social workers to offer professional development and assistance for those that may have mental health issues. The program also features a work readiness component to help prepare people to start their careers or rejoin the workforce.
Hunter was the catalyst behind a 2010 Angola reentry program, which sought to reduce recidivism rates for formerly incarcerated individuals by offering job training and mentorship from those serving life sentences. The recidivism rate after three years for those who participated in the program was only 14%, compared to 40.6% for those that did not participate in the program, Hunter noted.
Hunter said he will “get out in the street where people are” and visit barbershops, beauty salons and churches to let people know about the Orleans Career Project.
“Again, if we want to reduce crime, diversify our economy, promote businesses in New Orleans and in the region and attract businesses to come here, then we need to offer those career training opportunities in those high-demand fields,” Hunter said.
For more information about the Orleans Career Project, visit Delgado Community College’s website.
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