New Orleans Pretrial Services is designed to incorporate:

  • universal screening,
  • interviews with defendants and investigation of information prior to first appearance,
  • the use of an empirical risk-assessment instrument to guide release decisions,
  • the ability to supervise defendants, and
  • a court-date reminder system to help defendants meet their obligations.

With Vera’s assistance, a collaboration of New Orleans criminal justice system stakeholders designed the risk assessment instrument, obtained access to criminal history data, and encouraged judicial decision makers to use the resulting information. The project launched in April 2012 after a month-long test run, and was scaled to full implementation with funding from the City of New Orleans in 2013.

Pretrial services are an important way to reduce mass incarceration. A majority of people in jail are being held pretrial for nonviolent offenses, and remain in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. New Orleans, in particular, detains people at significantly higher rates than other U.S. cities and counties. These detention practices do not improve public safety and in fact come at a high social cost—for detained people, it can result in lost employment, increased homelessness, disruption of treatment services, and increased future criminal activity. By offering a screening process to detain only violent, at-risk offenders, Vera is working to both reduce jail use and mitigate the collateral consequences of mass incarceration.