The New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison are both subject to federal consent decrees aimed at improving their operations, a reality that underscores the urgency of reforming the city’s law enforcement and criminal justice system. We believe that those reforms should include a continued commitment to New Orleans Pretrial Services. The program identifies defendants awaiting trial who seem low risks to public safety. If the court agrees, then these defendants can be released from detention while awaiting trial. That reduces strain on prison capacity, helping law enforcement officials focus on detaining defendants who might pose a more serious risk to the public.
The New Orleans Pretrial Services program is relatively new, beginning operations in April 2012. The program hasn’t yet been able to develop a long track record, but similar programs in other cities have been found to produce savings of two to three dollars for every dollar spent.
Between July 2012 and May 2013, New Orleans Pretrial Services assessed 3,664 defendants. During that period, 95 percent of those released on non-financial or low bond — under $2, 500 — appeared in court as ordered after their release, according to program officials. Ninety-six percent of those released for little or no bond were not rearrested during the pretrial period, officials said.
New Orleans Pretrial Services is funded by a $484,000 appropriation from the City of New Orleans and one-time contributions of $100,000 from Baptist Community Ministries and $39,000 from the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice. Baptist Community Ministries has also awarded the program $300,000 over three years to provide supervision services.
The proposed city budget for next year includes a $584,000 allocation for New Orleans Pretrial Services.
We urge city officials to support the program, which seems like a wise investment in advancing justice and public safety in New Orleans.