City Gets $2 Million Grant to Help Reduce Jail Population

The City of New Orleans received a $2 million grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue local criminal justice reform and reduce the city’s jail population. In all, the MacArthur Foundation has invested $3.5 million to help city leaders address over-incarceration.

The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $166 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

New Orleans was selected for continued funding based ongoing system improvement and progress to date.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell says local efforts to address the issue of over-incarceration are working, but adds that there is still work to do.

“Thanks to the commitment of our criminal justice leadership, and to the support of the MacArthur Foundation, New Orleans has seen a 25 percent drop in our jail population. We have made great strides toward ending Louisiana’s distinction as the mass incarceration capital of the country,” says Cantrell. “But too many of our citizens remain detained in a system that disproportionally impacts the Black community. We will be relentless in our efforts to ensure that our system is equitable, and that it upholds justice for all New Orleanians.”

The City of New Orleans Criminal Justice Commissioner Tenisha Stevens also cites the programs and policies supported by the grant as ways to address racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

“This funding will allow the City and our partners to build on our previous success in safely reducing our jail population,” Stevens says. “We are proud to be one of the communities leading the way in addressing over-incarceration and making our system more just and equitable but we still have work to do. The system does not work the same for everyone. Too many of our poor and Black citizens are detained by a system that has proven to be inequitable. We look forward to continuing our work with the community, local leaders, and the MacArthur Foundation to create a fairer and more effective local justice system for all.”

New Orleans was first selected to join the collaborative Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015, and has since used the resources and funding provided by the Challenge to:

  • Develop alternatives to arrest for people with mental illness and substance use disorders;
  • Institutionalize release decision-making processes that are based on risk rather than wealth;
  • Improve policies and procedures to address systemic inefficiencies and reduce extended, unnecessary jail stays; and
  • Lay the groundwork for the establishment of the New Orleans Safety and Justice Challenge Community Advisory Group, a diverse, representative group of volunteer residents who are engaging the community in understanding the problem, developing its own solutions, and monitoring the system and its actors to ensure that all are held accountable for following through with their commitments to the Challenge.

As a result, there are more than 400 fewer people in jail today – a 25 percent reduction since the Challenge began and the lowest jail population in nearly 40 years.

Along with the criminal court system, the police department, the district attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, public defender’s office, probation and parole and the SJC Community Advisory Group, the City has developed a comprehensive plan for additional reform strategies over the next two years, including:

  • Diverting individuals at risk for arrest because of mental illness, addiction, or trauma away from jail and toward community-based treatment and services
  • Facilitating release soon after arrest through use of an evidence-based risk assessment tool (Public Safety Assessment) and enhanced supportive supervision services for individuals released before trial;
  • Expanding eligibility and caseload capacity for the District Attorney’s diversion program;
  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities by monitoring race and ethnicity data at key points throughout the criminal justice process, and engaging stakeholders in large-scale efforts to interrupt mechanisms that contribute to racial disparities; and
  • Supporting the Community Advisory Group’s plans to host educational and informational workshops for the community to disseminate information and receive feedback from those most affected by the policies in place.

More information about the work underway in New Orleans can be found on nola.gov/ocjc.

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