New Report Sheds Light on Who Is in New Orleans’s Jail—And Why

New Orleans, LA—The Vera Institute of Justice today released its first quarterly report on the population of people detained in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The report analyzes current data in order to inform the public conversation about how the city uses its jail.

Until recently, New Orleans was the longtime nationwide leader in its jail incarceration rate, which today remains at nearly double the national average. Although the population of the city’s jail has been declining since 2009, there is still much room for improvement, including addressing the considerable and persistent racial disparities in arrest and detention.

By examining the key sub-populations of people behind bars—including not only what kind of offense a person was arrested for, but also his or her assessed risk level—the report aims to provide accurate and unbiased data and analysis to support local leaders to safely reduce reliance on unnecessary and harmful incarceration.

The report’s analysis of arrest and detention data found that:

  • 1,591 people were held in jail on March 2, 2016; 90% of them were not serving a sentence but were awaiting adjudication. With a total of 2,038 beds available, this means that the jail capacity exceeds the current need.
  • Of the people in OPP who had been assessed and scored for risk, nearly half were assessed as low or low-moderate risk.    
  • 80% of people in jail were black men, although black males represent only 28% of the city’s population.
  • Over the three-month period of January – March 2016, 50% more black men were arrested than white men, and 55% more black women were arrested than white women.

“It is critical to know exactly who is in jail and what is causing them to be there,” said Jon Wool, director of Vera’s New Orleans Office. “Only in doing so can we truly understand the reasons for over-incarceration, and make choices that will set us on a different course. We hope that this report will serve as a useful tool for the city’s ongoing reform efforts.”

The report is available to download on Vera’s website, along with a digital supplement that contains additional data. The report will be released with updated data four times annually.