Orleans Criminal Justice Leaders Engage The Community On Right Sizing Jail Population
NEW ORLEANS – Representatives of the Mayor’s Office, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and other local criminal justice agencies have been engaging with community leaders as part of an ongoing strategic planning process for the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative to reduce over-incarceration in local jails.
The collaborative effort brings together partners in the criminal justice system with representatives from criminal justice-affiliated community groups for a constructive dialogue about ways to reduce both misuse of jail and racial and ethnic disparity in the criminal justice system, while maintaining and strengthening public safety.
Since July, the Mayor’s Office and Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office held monthly community stakeholder meetings. The meetings focused on a variety of key topics, including:
• Examining key decision points of the arrest to case disposition process
• Reviewing data relevant to the population of the jail and determining challenge areas
• Prioritizing challenge areas that affect admissions, length of stay and racial and ethnic disparity
• Discussing proposed solutions and determining community stakeholder’s priority solutions
• Determining continued role of community stakeholders in efforts to reduce the overuse of incarceration in New Orleans
“We remain committed to our work with the MacArthur Foundation to reduce the local prison capacity and overuse of jails,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “As we continue to make smart decisions about how we arrest, detain and prosecute, we recognize the importance and value of community engagement. Our collaborative process will strengthen the way that we think about the use of jails and help us to identify reforms at all key decision points from arrest to post disposition.”
“Over the past 11 years the number of inmate beds has declined significantly from a high of 7,520 to about 2,000 inmate beds today,” said Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman. “I fully support efforts to right size our jail population and to move out low-risk offenders. We are committed to improving our efforts.”
In May 2015, New Orleans was one of 20 jurisdictions selected to receive a $150,000 grant to plan for a fairer, more effective local justice system. The grant is a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge—the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. New Orleans has been using the support to continue its efforts to interrupt the cycle of incarceration by developing smart policies to minimize the use of local detention.
Since receipt of the grant, the Mayor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office have led a joint planning effort to develop a proposal that will reduce overreliance on incarceration, strengthen public safety and better serve some defendants in the community. The effort has involved representatives from the Police Department, District Attorney’s Office, Office of Public Defenders, Criminal District Court, Municipal Court and Orleans Parish Probation and Parole.
Community members have also been involved with identifying top priorities for right-sizing the system and making overall improvements. Both groups have reviewed data from the Orleans Parish criminal justice agencies, which has informed decision-making and pinpointed areas for improvement. A focus on low-risk defendants facing non-violent charges has emerged in the plan developed for submission. Among unsentenced detainees in the jail, 34% are facing a drug or other non-violent charge.
“The MCC has long advocated for broader use of summonses for low-risk, nonviolent offenders and minimizing the time they are held in custody,” said Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. “Utilizing jail space to house those who pose the greatest threat to community safety is an essential priority in New Orleans’ resource-scarce criminal justice system. The City and Sheriff jointly spearheaded an initiative that leveraged MacArthur Foundation funding to bring together a broad coalition of criminal justice system agencies and community partners. The MCC is pleased to lend its support for this collaborative effort to reduce demand for jail space in New Orleans.”
In early 2016, a final proposal to reduce local incarceration and racial and ethnic disparity in the criminal justice system will be sent to the MacArthur Foundation for consideration of a second round of funding – between $500,000 and $2 million annually – to implement the plan over two years. The proposed plan will respond to the priorities of the criminal justice and community stakeholders.
“Instead of focusing solely on the jail, our community created a plan that challenges the police department, sheriff, judges, district attorney and public defender to each changes their practices in order to address the racial disparities in our jail,” said Charmel Gaulden, Program Director of Public Safety grants, Baptist Community Ministries. “Baptist Community Ministries is committed to supporting community voice and applauds the MacArthur Foundation for setting a table with the Safety and Justice Challenge that allows system actors and community members to collaborate on implementing data driven solutions.”