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City of New Orleans Awarded More Than $1M by MacArthur Foundation to Rethink Local Justice System

NEW ORLEANS — The City of New Orleans has received a $1.165 million grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue building on efforts, in collaboration with local leaders and the community, to rethink the local criminal justice system, safely reduce the City’s jail population, and eliminate racial inequities. The grant brings the Foundation’s total investment in New Orleans to over $4.8 million to date and is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $246 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and advance racial equity in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

“We continue to stress that addressing criminal justice goes beyond law enforcement and that we must bring a more holistic approach to reduce crime, protect our residents, and break the cycle of arrest, adjudicate, incarcerate and release. So we not only need every agency working together, but we also need to leverage all of our available resources. I want to thank the MacArthur Foundation for their financial support on this important work,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

The Safety and Justice Challenge is supporting local leaders, individuals directly and most impacted by the justice system, and the broader community in New Orleans and across the country who are determined to address one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. New Orleans was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015 and has since used the resources and funding provided by the initiative to implement evidence-based solutions.

These solutions include the pretrial release program, which utilizes a risk-based decision-making tool to assist local court in setting bails that promote public safety, court appearances, and a reduction of recidivism of those pretrial defendants released on bond. Pretrial defendants are also provided bond advocates during first appearances to increase the use of releases on recognizance and nominal bonds.

The solutions also include diversion programs that focus on defendants in different points in the criminal justice system, including pre-arrest diversion and pre-trial diversion through the local prosecutor’s office, in addition to warrant reduction strategies to eliminate eligible warrants and traffic attachments systemically. Additionally, an Interagency Coordination Specialist position was created to identify and resolve systemic issues that lead to unnecessarily long jail stays. The Safety and Justice Challenge also 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.

As a result, the City of New Orleans has drastically reduced its jail population by over 50% from pre-SJC implementation to post-SJC implementation.

Today, New Orleans was one of 15 jurisdictions selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date. This new round of funding will provide the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination and partners with continued support and expert technical assistance to strengthen and expand strategies that address the main drivers, and resulting racial inequities, of local jail incarceration.

Additionally, building on New Orleans’ progress to date is especially critical as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color reinforce the need to transform how the system operates.

New Orleans has developed a comprehensive plan for additional strategies and initiatives over the next two years to invest in a safer, more effective, and more equitable system. These include:

  • Establishing a robust Ethnic and Racial Disparity Work Group of diverse government and community stakeholders to recommend policy changes to local governments with the goal of reducing disparities in the justice system;
  • Expanding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program beyond the pilot police district to ensure equitable pre-arrest diversion to community members;
  • Institutionalizing continued problem-solving and assessment of justice system bottlenecks through the creation of an Interagency Coordination Specialist;
  • Creation of a Jail Release Navigator position to reduce recidivism rates of individuals with mental health conditions;
  • Sustaining the Pretrial Services Program through its transition from state to local operations at the New Orleans Criminal District Court, and continuing its success rate during the Covid-19 Pandemic, increasing the use of nominal bonds under $50, and as low as $5, issued by judges during first appearance.
  • Expanding the Prosecutorial Diversion options to more defendants through expanded eligibility criteria;
  • Continuing the success of the Public Defender at First Appearance Program, including bond advocacy and other services; and
  • Maintaining the Community Advisory Group through the support of a full-time Coordinator position.

More than five years after its public launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create more fair, just, and equitable local justice systems across the country.

More information about the work underway in New Orleans can be found on the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination’s webpage at nola.gov/ocjc, as well as

 www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.

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