The purpose of a jail

The main function of a jail is to hold people who have been arrested and cannot safely wait for their day in court at home. Unlike prisons, jails are intended to house people short-term.2 The City of New Orleans pays for the operation of the New Orleans jail with taxpayers’ dollars. It is a core civic responsibility to ensure that people are only detained when necessary and that taxpayer dollars are stewarded responsibly. The main considerations for understanding how we are using our jail are as follows:

  • Appropriate detention. People who are arrested are presumed to be innocent until guilt has been determined. Pretrial detention for a person accused of a crime is only appropriate if there is strong evidence that the defendant presents a significant risk to community safety or will flee the jurisdiction of the court if released.
  • Measuring risk. The City of New Orleans, through its pretrial services program, uses a research-based tool to measure the risk that felony arrestees pose of being re-arrested or failing to appear in court. Research has identified several factors that predict these risks, such as a person’s criminal conviction history, past missed court dates, or lack of community ties.3