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USM Students Help Fight Crime in New Orleans

We heard recently from facilitators Maribeth Love and Paul Saputo about how they guided one New Orleans community on behalf of the Southern Mississippi Council of Conversations for Change to develop its first ever community impact statement. This document, created through a deliberative process, addresses the community-wide impact of what New Orleans Police Sergeant Doug Eckert called a “one-man crime wave.”

For the past six months in an area of New Orleans called Lakeview, a rash of home burglaries have been terrorizing residents. Among the items stolen have been dozens of flat-screen televisions, computers, and guns. These invasions of home privacy have not yet turned violent, but residents are concerned for the future and for the negative impact that these burglaries are having on this area still very much in recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, police have apprehended the individual they believe is responsible for the crimes. Residents are concerned that the non-violent nature of the crimes will allow that individual to be released quickly despite the wide-ranging impact his crimes have had on the community, so two students from the University of Southern Mississippi took responsibility for helping Lakeview residents create a community impact statement through public deliberation. Paul Saputo and Maribeth Love, facilitators working on behalf of the Southern Miss Council of Conversations for Change, engaged residents of Lakeview in a spirited and focused Conversation Circle at the home of Rita Legrand on October 15. These Lakeview citizens explored the impact of the crime wave and ways that they felt their neighborhood could be restored through a just sentence upon conviction. The results of this discussion form the basis of the community impact statement which prosecutors will use when considering plea agreements, and which will be presented to the judge at sentencing. The Beacon of Hope in New Orleans and the continuing effect of the hurricane rebuilding fellowship grant from the Center for Community and Civic Engagement helped make this work possible.

For more information contact: Paul Saputo, pnsaputo@gmail.com; (504) 259-1642; www.conversationsforchange.org.

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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