In the cover story of the December 17, 2012 issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly magazine, Katy Reckdahl explores pretrial detention in the United States where on any given day two-thirds of the 750,000 people in jail are held because they can't afford bail. The Vera-run New Orleans Pretrial Services, which was launched in April 2012, is featured in the story.
Chief Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen, who's presided on the Orleans Parish Court for 38 years, says that he's grateful for the additional information he gets from the Vera Institute of Justice, the justice policy nonprofit that runs the new pretrial services program for his court.
The district attorney has for years provided the magistrate with criminal records of defendants, he says. "But unless I asked the defendant directly, I didn't have any information about employment, stability, and mental health or whether he was living with family or children," Judge Hansen says. He wasn't able – as Vera staff is – to get reliable, independently confirmed employment and family situation information before the magistrate hearing, he says.
Recently, Vera began screening defendants for diversion programs right away. If that had been in place earlier this year, Richardson might have been released immediately, with orders to check in the next day at the district attorney's office..
Still, there are times, Hansen says, when Vera's staff will tell him that someone ranks, say, a 7 as a risk for release, but he believes that they pose a higher risk, maybe closer to an 11. At that point, he defers to himself.
"I'll follow my instincts," Hansen says. "I've been doing it longer. And I've been living here longer."