Vera Louisiana

With the highest incarceration rate of any state in the United States, Louisiana has been called the prison capital of the world.

Since 2006, Vera has successfully worked to reduce the number of people held in local jails, advocated for data-driven reforms, and partnered with people in the local New Orleans justice system, city leaders, and community organizations. In 2021, Vera widened its scope beyond New Orleans, seeking to reform Louisiana’s entire criminal legal system.

Today, Vera Louisiana calls on district attorneys and state legislators to reduce racial disparities in jail populations, stop imprisoning people with mental health conditions, and fund programs that address the root causes of violent crime.

Since 2006, we’ve worked to end unnecessary detention and develop innovative, collaborative projects that deliver justice, not punishment. We’re focused on

  • safely reducing jail populations;
  • advocating against the criminalization of mental illness;
  • identifying racial disparities in jail populations across the state; and
  • continuing to advocate for reform in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office.

Violent crime is a public health issue. As with any health concern, we must diagnose the problem correctly, otherwise, we have no chance at delivering the cure.

Black men make up 26 percent of Orleans Parish but 85 percent of its jail.
Black people comprise 32 percent of Louisiana’s total population, but 58 percent of the state’s pretrial population.

Vera is responding to the overwhelming need to reform policies in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana by:

  • Advancing prosecution reform in New Orleans. Vera is collaborating with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office to develop and implement systemic reforms aimed at greatly restricting the use of money bail, increasing the use of discretion to decline prosecution of crimes that pose no threat to community safety, and greatly expanding the use of diversion programs to reduce involvement with the criminal legal system
  • Opposing jail expansion while promoting community-based care. Since 2010, Vera has opposed plans to expand the footprint of the New Orleans jail. Twelve years later the fight continues with specific opposition to the construction of a “Phase III” facility designed to hold people with acute and subacute mental illnesses. Vera champions community-based approaches that can improve outcomes for people experiencing behavioral health challenges.
  • Investing in community’s vision of safety. Vera is collaborating with community organizations to analyze the citywide and police department budgets, electronic police reports, and 911 phone calls. Vera aims to encourage New Orleans leaders, including the Mayor and City Council, to prioritize funding, community-based, supportive services that address the root causes of violence and harm and prioritize those who have been particularly impacted by the criminal legal systems—especially Black, brown, indigenous, poor, and working-class people.
  • Addressing Louisiana’s Carceral Impact. New Orleans, alone, has not caused the state of Louisiana to have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Sixty-three other parishes are contributing to our problem of mass-incarceration, however, the problems in many rural parishes are flying under the radar. Our goal is to analyze how other parishes are contributing to Louisianan’s incarceration capital status and develop policies to end mass incarceration with government and community leaders.

We’re helping officials rethink their use of jails as a means to keep communities safe.

Vera Louisiana is one of Vera’s three place-based initiatives, along with Greater Justice New York and Vera California. We serve the unique purpose of harnessing our strengths and assets of our local relationships with government and community to dismantle the systems that punish and harm and build institutions that deliver safety and justice. Each of our place-based initiatives are led by staff who live in those communities.