Why the City of New Orleans Just Ended Cash Bail for Low-Risk Crimes

A new policy promises to save the city money and enable the court to tailor conditions to an individual rather than relying on a person’s ability to pay.

By choosing to reserve pretrial jail detention only for those who pose a real public safety or flight risk, the city of New Orleans is leading the way toward more fair and effective justice system policies in Louisiana. (Getty Images)

In the past, low-income defendants who were charged with minor municipal offenses in New Orleans faced a quagmire. People with charges such as loitering or public intoxication could face up to a month in jail before they even went to trial simply because they could not afford bail. Sometimes, these charges would not have resulted in any jail time even if the individual was found guilty. On any given day, three out of 10 jail beds were filled by people incarcerated simply because they could not afford to pay their bail or fines and fees. In New Orleans, as in many other cities, the problems within the system disproportionately affected minority communities. In 2015, black New Orleanians, who comprise roughly 59 percent of the population, paid $5.4 million in bond premiums, or 84 percent of the $6.4 million total.

Losing a primary caregiver or earner to jail for even three days can devastate a family with few resources, leading to a cascade of problems including eviction, job loss and possibly intervention from child protective services.

Jailing people only because they cannot afford bail not only hurts families but costs cities money as well. In 2015, New Orleans spent $6.4 million detaining people who were jailed simply because they could not pay. This equates to 3,947 people who spent a total of 199,930 days in jail.

In response to these issues, the city of New Orleans recently passed an ordinance which ends the use of cash bail for municipal offenses for low-risk crimes. While the legislation eliminates the practice of cash bail for most municipal offenses, it also meets public safety needs by providing exceptions for charges such as simple battery and domestic abuse violence. In these cases, the municipal court makes a decision to impose non-financial release conditions or, in rare cases, preventative detention. The new policy also provides exceptions for people who get rearrested or fail to appear for their court date.

Starting in April, people charged with minor municipal offenses, regardless of their ability to pay, will be able to return to their families and take care of their responsibilities while waiting for their case to come before a judge. Passed unanimously by the city council in January, the ordinance has the support of both law enforcement and community advocates.

Support from the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge helped the city accomplish this crucial change to our local justice system. As the lead sponsor of the legislation, I prioritized this reform to make sure New Orleans uses its resources wisely, reduces harm to families and communities, and protects public safety.

Read more about NLC’s efforts to support criminal justice reform.

About the author: Councilmember Susan Guidry was elected to the New Orleans City Council as the District A representative in March 2010, and was elected to a second term in 2014. Guidry has served as chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee throughout her tenure.

Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

A new online resource with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models is available to city officials looking for positive results from their municipality’s juvenile justice system programs.

(Getty Images)

City leaders play a key role in supporting the high-quality implementation of juvenile justice system policies and practices. The coordinated efforts of federal, state and local leaders can ensure that programming for youth in the juvenile justice system results in positive and sustainable outcomes for youth, their families and communities. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Seigle.

Research and field experience have demonstrated that the substance of a particular juvenile justice policy, practice or program is only as good its implementation. It is up to local policymakers and system leaders to prioritize the high-quality implementation of research-informed policies and practices. Without strategies and tools for guiding implementation processes, juvenile justice practitioners may fall short of producing significant results.

In January, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released the Juvenile Justice Research-to-Practice Implementation Resources. These online resources provide juvenile justice agency managers, staff, and other practitioners with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models to help them implement research-informed policies and practices. Mayors and municipal officials may refer to these resources when advancing efforts in their own cities that are aimed at improving outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system, and use them to help ensure that changes to policy, practice and resource allocations reflect best practice and are implemented properly.

The resources, organized by common challenges for juvenile justice programs and agencies, draw from the expertise of researchers and promising practices identified by practitioners around the country. Each resource offers methods to address those common challenges, specifically in the areas of Family Engagement and Involvement and Evidence-Based Programs and Services.

Family Engagement and Involvement

Practitioners often struggle to engage, involve, and empower the families of youth in the juvenile justice system. Because they work at the level of government closest to communities, city leaders can support local juvenile justice agency managers as they partner with leaders from probation offices, detention centers and community-based providers to apply several family engagement and involvement strategies, including:

  • Defining family broadly and identifying family members and other supportive adults using visual tools, questionnaires, and other models from the field
  • Establishing a culture of alliance with families who have children in the juvenile justice system through staff trainings, family-focused policies and protocols, family guides and peer supports
  • Involving families in supervision and service decisions through family team meetings, group conferencing models and family-oriented, evidence-based programs
  • Providing family contact opportunities for youth in facilities through flexible and inclusive policies, transportation assistance, communication technology and events to celebrate youth
  • Establishing and tracking family engagement performance measures through family advisory groups, family surveys and focus groups

Evidence-Based Programs and Services

Juvenile justice agencies and contracted service providers frequently encounter challenges in identifying appropriate evidence-based programs and services and implementing them properly, consistently and in ways that lead to better outcomes for youth. City leaders can work with their local juvenile justice agency to adopt several strategies for effectively implementing evidence-based programs and services for youth in the justice system, including:

  • Developing city ordinances that provide or increase funding for evidence-based programs and services, as well as funding for training staff and service providers in the proper implementation of evidence-based programs and services
  • Creating city council policy or legislation that mandates the establishment of service quality standards for youth in facilities or in the community
  • Requiring juvenile justice systems and service providers to regularly report to the city council on the progress and outcomes of youth under juvenile justice system supervision and on the performance of service providers

When city leaders champion proven strategies and multisystem collaboration, they emphasize the importance of effective, thoughtful juvenile justice strategies for the whole community.

elizabeth_seigle_125x150About the Author: Elizabeth Seigle is the grantee technical assistance manager for Corrections and Reentry at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. She oversees technical assistance to local and state juvenile justice agencies implementing the Second Chance Act and other programs funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Ms. Seigle also supports the CSG Justice Center’s juvenile justice projects and initiatives.