How New Orleans Funds Justice


The principal agencies of the New Orleans local criminal justice system—the state and municipal criminal courts, the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, and the sheriff’s office—rely significantly on revenues from fees imposed on people who are arrested. This funding structure is the product of state law, state and local budgetary decisions, and long-standing local practice.

Using data from 2015, Vera analyzed this funding model in order to determine how much revenue the city of New Orleans collected from those in contact with the criminal justice system in comparison to the operating costs spent on individuals who were incarcerated because they could not pay. This report details the results of Vera’s analysis and offers an alternative vision for justice.

Key Takeaway

The city’s approach to funding its criminal justice system is generally meant to shift the system’s costs from all taxpayers to those who have contact with the system. However, Vera’s analysis found that the current funding model is both unjust and expensive—costing taxpayers more money in the long run.

Publication Highlights

  • There is no evidence that detaining people pretrial because they cannot pay increases public safety. Indeed, pretrial incarceration itself correlates with an increased likelihood of future rearrest, even after only a few days in jail.

  • If the city and criminal justice system agencies collaborate, it is possible—without state law change—to refocus on justice and public safety by eliminating the two major forms of wealth extraction and replacing those revenue sources with direct funding.

Key Facts


Past Due

Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans

In 2015, government agencies in New Orleans collected $4.5 million in the form of bail, fines and fees from people involved in the criminal justice system and, by extension, from their families. Another $4.7 million was transferred from the pockets of residents to for-profit bail bond agents. These costs have become the subject of considerable publ ...

  • Mathilde Laisne, Jon Wool, Christian Henrichson
January 09, 2017

Bail, Fines, and Fees

A look at how bail, fines, and fees in the criminal justice system impact poor communities in New Orleans

The New Orleans criminal justice system, like many other local systems across the country, operates significantly on funding generated from the people cycling through it—from bail and associated fees before trial, to fines and fees levied after conviction. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants—the majority of whom are poor and black— ...

July 25, 2016