The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was a tipping point for the New Orleans criminal justice system. The national scrutiny of the horrors that occurred during the storm also served as a public unmasking of deep, systemic troubles that were commonplace before Katrina. Pre-storm New Orleans led the nation in its local detention rate and spent one-third of its budget on public safety, yet violent crime and community distrust of the system were high.

Vera New Orleans aims to:

  • Improve pretrial decision making. Vera is working to change pretrial detention policy so that people who are not a threat to public safety and who can be counted on to appear in court are released without financial obligation. In April 2012, Vera launched New Orleans Pretrial Services (NOPTS) — a program that uses a research-based empirical risk assessment that informs pretrial release or detention decisions. NOPTS provides supervision and support to defendants who are released pretrial and allows detention resources to target those who pose a risk to public safety; it also reduces the likelihood that people are detained prior to trial simply because they cannot afford bail.
  • Reduce unnecessary detention in the local jail. Through our work with city government and community organizations, we identify drivers of unnecessary detention in Orleans Parish Prison. This effort helps inform the city’s need for a reasonably sized jail and for changes throughout the local criminal justice system that will safely reduce the jail population. Vera continues to seek partnerships to support this work and advance the recommendations for sustainable reductions in the jail population.
  • Promote collaborative decision making. The participation of all parties involved in the criminal justice system is key to developing locally feasible and sustainable reforms. Vera is improving collaboration among criminal justice agencies, as well as connecting all branches of government, community organizations, business leaders, and residents to work together to create meaningful and lasting change.
  • Reform unjust bail practices. Vera is seeking transformative bail reform in New Orleans and statewide. The New Orleans team contributed significantly to a year-long project of the criminal justice committee of the Louisiana State Bar Association. In December 2018, the committee released Report on the Louisiana Bail System. It shines light on bail practices across the state, identifying ways in which the constitutional rights of arrested people are compromised and dramatic over-detention results.

In the ten years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has dramatically reduced its local jail population. Still, it remains close to twice the national average. There is growing recognition locally and nationally that vigorous arrest and detention is not making the community safer. Vera is committed to helping the city right size its use of incarceration and implement policy and practice changes that will end unnecessary arrest and detention.

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