New Orleans, LA

Change in Jail Population 56%

Action Areas Community Engagement Diversion Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

When the City of New Orleans joined the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2015, the city incarcerated nearly twice as many people each year as the national average and had a jail population of over 1,500.

Most people jailed (89%) in New Orleans were awaiting a disposition, meaning they had not been tried or convicted of a crime, and thus, constitutionally, were still considered innocent.

People of color were over-incarcerated in the jail. Black men were arrested at twice the rate of white men, while black women were arrested at 1.6 times the rate of white women. This racial disparity is carried over into who gets detained in the jail, where Black men (15-64 years old) comprised 88% of the jail population but only made up 19% of the total New Orleans population.

One of the biggest drivers of disparities in the New Orleans jail population concerned an individual’s ability to pay bail, and in Louisiana money bail is required for every charge upon arrest. Many people were incarcerated because they are poor, not because they pose a risk to the community.

Roughly 30% of the jail population were people with mental health issues and nearly 15% of the population reported a substance use disorder.

Strategies

Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, New Orleans has advanced several strategies to rethink and redesign their criminal justice system so that it is fairer, just, and equitable for all.

01

ACCESS TO DEFENSE COUNSEL

The Public Defender at First Appearance Initiative helps ensure that low and low-moderate risk defendants are not detained because of inability to pay. Research shows that judges are more likely to release defendants on their own recognizance and are more likely to reduce bonds to an attainable amount when defense counsel are present at first appearance. The initiative is supported by two attorneys and client advocates.

02

IMPROVED PRETRIAL SERVICES

Pretrial Services allow courts to make sound decisions to release people from jail while awaiting trial, without putting public safety at risk. The initiative includes the implementation of a Public Safety Assessment and expanding the use of Release on Recognizance. Also, the Community Supported Release initiative supports people with services (i.e., child care) to eliminate barriers that impact court date attendance.

03

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

The Community Advisory Group (CAG) consists of 28 community members who are committed to holding criminal justice agencies accountable. The CAG members generously volunteer their time and effort to collaborate with public agencies and officials. Members include residents from across the city, social and legal professionals, university faculty members, victims of crime, and individuals with lived experience.

04

DIVERSION TO SERVICES

New Orleans’ Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) provides local police officers with the resources and support to divert an individual with mental illness, substance use, or social challenges, at the point of arrest to intensive case management and community-based treatment options. LEAD aims to reduce the recidivism of individuals with mental and substance use disorders. It will be expanding city-wide.

05

CENTERING RACIAL EQUITY

New Orleans’ approach to reducing ethnic and racial disparities within its justice system is three-fold: Use research best practices; conduct data collection and analysis on disparities using a decision point analysis and interactive data dashboards; and establish an Ethnic & Racial Disparity Working Group (see below).

06

RACIAL DISPARITY WORKING GROUP

The Ethnic and Racial Disparity Working Group sets specific, measurable, and achievable goals to reduce justice system involvement for people of color. The group includes half government agency and half community members. It analyzes disparities across the justice system; develops or adjusts strategies to bring a stronger equity lens; develops goals for reducing racial disparities; and evaluates impacts of the work.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, as well as other key strategies such as increased discretion for law enforcement to issue citations and the decriminalization of minor drug offenses, New Orleans has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system, exceeding the population reduction targets it set out to achieve.

Quartery ADP for New Orleans (2016-2021)

55.8% from baseline

More Results

The Sandy Krasnoff Criminal Justice Council, the Jail Population Management Subcommittee and the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee have been actively leading initiatives that have manifested system change in New Orleans to date. Stakeholder buy-in has been instrumental in successful implementation of many of the Safety and Justice Challenge reforms.

New Orleans’ Average Daily Population in the jail has been further impacted by initiatives to reduce the average length of stay for low-risk felony defendants, increase the use of Release on Recognizance (RORs), facilitate risk-based decision making, invest in first appearance advocacy, and conduct bond reviews. This strategy led to a 40% increase in RORs for lower-risk defendants at first appearance, and a 47% increase in the proportion of lower-risk defendants released within three days.

Remaining Challenges

New Orleans is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

In New Orleans, COVID-19 brought many challenges, while also illuminating and creating an environment that encouraged further and more inventive and adaptive system reform. During the pandemic, the New Orleans jail population dropped to historic lows, which demonstrated that incarceration could be successfully minimized, and without sacrificing public safety.

The strategies have shifted as the pandemic has progressed. The pretrial services program enrolled more individuals, most individuals successfully completed the prosecutorial diversion program, and the 2021 Diversion Program expanded eligibility criteria to divert more people. The public defenders and criminal court judges continue to work to ensure that more individuals are released on no- or low-bond amounts, and stakeholders have regularly met on a monthly basis to continue to respond to new challenges, such as court case backlogs due to COVID-19 prohibiting jury trials.

The city’s challenge now is to sustain positive measures beyond the immediate crisis.

Lead Agency

Office of Criminal Justice Coordination

Contact Information

Commissioner Tenisha Stevens

Partners

New Orleans City Attorney, New Orleans City Council, New Orleans Health Department, New Orleans Municipal & Traffic Court, New Orleans Police Department, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Orleans Parish District Attorney, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, Orleans Public Defenders, New Orleans SJC Community Advisory Group, Mayor’s Office Human Rights and Equity, Vera Institute of Justice's New Orleans, Operation Restoration, Foundation for Louisiana, Total Community Action, First 72Plus

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