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Criminal justice advocates push for funding, policing changes

BATON ROUGE — In this spring’s legislative session, criminal justice advocates will be pushing for increased funding for public defenders and for changes in policing practices.

Norris Henderson, the founder of a non-profit called Voice of The Experienced, is among the advocates pushing for changes in the criminal justice system.

Norris Henderson, the founder of Voice of The Experienced, a non-profit known as VOTE, said both areas represent crucial steps in reforming the state’s justice system and making it fairer for minorities.

The Legislature provided an extra $3 million for public defenders last year and is looking at whether to provide more. Police tactics came under question around the country after the death of George Floyd in custody last year in Minneapolis, and Louisiana lawmakers created the Police Training, Screening and De-escalation Task Force to address those practices here.

As of now, with the trial of one of the officers in the Floyd case in the headlines, the task force has made 21 recommendations for legislators to consider once the session begins.

Norris Henderson began looking into criminal justice issues while he was wrongly incarcerated.

These recommendations include bans on chokeholds, a prohibition of “no-knock” warrants, requirements for officers to wear and turn on body cameras, reducing time for officers to find legal representation and reducing the time to complete an investigation of officers involved in possible wrongdoing.

VOTE was formed in 2004, and it aims to uphold civil rights for individuals who are most impacted by the justice system.