In an online companion article to her 12/17/12 cover story about pretrial detention, Christian Science Monitor Contributor Katy Reckdahl reports on efforts underway in New Orleans to reduce the size of the city's jail population, including the new Vera-run pretrial services program.
But New Orleans also embarked on pretrial release reform aimed at reducing the expensive and unfair detention of inmates who can't afford bail, as other cities have done for jail overcrowding. The new pretrial services program has a staff to help judges make more realistic and speedy bail decisions by gathering information about defendants. They then make assessments of defendants' risk of flight and danger as soon after arrest as possible and before defendants first see a judge. The program also provides supervision of those released on bail – keeping track of them to ensure they return for their court date. With a grant from the US Department of Justice, the New Orleans pilot program was started last April and run by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit policy organization.
Within months, the number of inmates awaiting trial dropped by an average of 165 inmates a day – an annual rate of savings to the city of $1.4 million.