On Monday (April 23), Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in partnership with the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Criminal District Court, and other criminal justice and community stakeholders, announced a new program, the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) Model, a risk assessment tool and decision-making matrix aimed at continuing to reduce the jail population in New Orleans. Set to begin in summer 2018, the tool was created using a database of over 1.5 million cases drawn from more than 300 U.S. jurisdictions and has been adopted by over 38 jurisdictions. 

“Prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ jail population exceeded 6,500 inmates. When we came into office in 2010, we made a commitment to reform our criminal justice system and reduce our jail population,” says Mayor Landrieu. “While we have made changes and reduced that number, the fact still remains that New Orleans is one of the most incarcerated cities in the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country; and there is still work to do. On behalf of the people of New Orleans, I am excited to partner with the Criminal District Court, Louisiana Supreme Court and many other stakeholders…This tool will help judges make an informed decision for felony defendants and ensure all New Orleanians have a fair experience in the City’s criminal justice system.”

Developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the PSA Model was created to help judges assess the risk a felony defendant poses for failing to appear for court or getting rearrested while released pretrial. The tool provides information that is race- and gender-neutral. It helps guide pretrial decision-making in an effort to increase safety, reduce taxpayer costs, and enhance fairness and efficiency in the system.

The PSA model doesn’t rely on any factors such as race, gender, income, education, address, drug use history, family status, marital status, national origin, employment, or religion. PSA relies solely on nine risk factors found to be the most predictive of re-arrest or failing to appear for court, including: age at current arrest; current violent offense; pending charges at the time of the offense; prior misdemeanor convictions; prior felony convictions; prior violent convictions; prior failures to appear in the past two years; prior failures to appear more than two years old; and prior sentences.

While the PSA score and risk level will be used as a decision-making tool for a judge, the final decision will always be made by the judge or commissioner.

In May 2015, the City of New Orleans was selected as one of 20 jurisdictions to receive a $150,000 planning grant as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce local incarceration. In April 2016, the City received an additional $1.5 million to implement its plan, which includes initiatives like the PSA Model aimed at increasing pretrial release among low-risk defendants.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette says adopting the PSA tool is the “right thing to do.”

“Following the Rule of Law and applying fairness at all times is the right thing to do,” said Chief Justice Johnson. “The implementation of the PSA tool will offer evidence-based data to assist judges and commissioners in determining whether release or detention is appropriate considering the charges faced by a defendant.” 

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