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, in their communities. Unlike prisons, jails are designed to house people short-term.2 The City of New Orleans pays for the operation of the New Orleans jail with taxpayers’ dollars and it is a core civic responsibility to ensure that people are only detained when necessary.3 The terms to understand 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 he or she is likely to break the law while awaiting trial or is likely to skip court dates.
  • Measuring risk. The City of New Orleans, through New Orleans Pretrial Services, 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.4