The Orleans Parish jail population has declined from more than 6,500 inmates pre-Hurricane Katrina to fewer than 1,300 inmates today as a result of reforms implemented in recent years. The main strategies responsible for this decline include: institutionalizing processes that facilitate pretrial release, such as routine bond reviews and risk-based decision making and supervision; expanding police discretion to issue summons in lieu of arrest; increasing the use of administrative sanctions for probationers; and creating a Justice System Administrator position to identify and resolve systemic issues that lead to unnecessarily long jail stays. In addition, the Safety and Justice Challenge supported the creation of the Community Advisory Group whose mission has been to assist and monitor the successful implementation of the strategies by holding city agencies and officials accountable to the Challenge plan. This diverse, representative group of New Orleans residents volunteer their time and energy to fulfill this mission through public advocacy, coordination, and organization with other community organizations, volunteer work in the jail and juvenile detention centers, and by careful analysis of the data collected as part of the Challenge plan. Further, the Community Advisory Group has three voting members on the Jail Population Subcommittee, where they are able to raise concerns and question public officials directly about the implantation of the strategies.
In order to reduce the jail population safely, the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Office developed a strategic plan centered on smart decision making that ensures public safety while minimizing the use of detention. The plan includes initiatives that: focus release decisions on risk and not financial ability; divert people with mental illness and substance use disorders toward community-based services; provide more opportunities for release and diversion; improve case processing time; and create an interagency database that allows for real time monitoring of jail population statistics. In order to address systemic racial and ethnic disparities in its system, the city will create tracking and accountability mechanisms focused on this issue and engage stakeholders in large-scale efforts to interrupt mechanisms that contribute to disparities. The Community Advisory Group continues to monitor the implementation of these initiatives and created its own strategic plan to broaden community awareness and participation in conversations on how the future of the City’s criminal system should be shaped moving forward.
The Mayor’s Office was awarded an additional $2 million grant from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2019 to continue implementing initiatives to reduce the jail population by a total of 38% since beginning its work with the Challenge in 2015. The Community Advisory Group will also receive up to $150,000 a year, for two years to support efforts to continue to monitor the public officials and hold them accountable and broaden their community outreach efforts.