NEW ORLEANS – Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that New Orleans received a $1.5 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to implement reforms to safely reduce the City’s jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. New Orleans is one of 11 jurisdictions chosen to receive significant funding and access to expert technical assistance to implement a plan for reform over the next two years. In total, nearly $25 million was awarded in support of ambitious plans to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.
“New Orleans is the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country in the world,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “Prior to Katrina, the jail population was about 7,000 and when my administration began in 2010, it was down to about 3,400. We have done major work since Katrina to reduce the local jail capacity even further to about 1,600, but we have more work to accomplish. With the MacArthur Foundation’s help to implement our changes, we will be able to help reduce the misuse and overuse of jails and make a more functional justice system for our residents.”
The grant is a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge—the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The Challenge is establishing a network of jurisdictions to model and inspire effective local criminal justice reforms across the country. In May 2015, New Orleans was chosen to receive a $150,000 grant from the Foundation to develop a plan for reform following a highly-competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions from 45 states and territories.
“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”
New Orleans will use the Foundation’s continued support in Phase II to address the main drivers of local incarceration, including racial and ethnic disparities, through a mix of common-sense and innovative solutions. The Mayor’s Office, in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office, and in collaboration with the Police Department, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defenders, Orleans Parish Probation and Parole, Criminal District and Municipal Court and community stakeholders, developed a plan that focuses on risk-based decision making; alternatives to arrest for people with mental health and substance abuse problems; opportunities for release and diversion; and coordination among all agencies and at all decision points. Through these reform efforts, New Orleans will safely drive down jail usage by 27 percent and reduce racial and ethnic disparities over three years.
“As Sheriff, I have closed jail facilities and reduced the inmate population in our city substantially. I am pleased to join with our criminal justice partners to improve outcomes in the justice system in New Orleans, particularly those that focus on safely diverting individuals with mental health and addiction treatment needs, while improving inter-agency cooperation on all levels. Support from the MacArthur Foundation can assist us in achieving that goal,” Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman said.
As in most jurisdictions, people of color are overrepresented in the Orleans Justice Center population. Despite making up 60 percent of the city’s population, African Americans make up 86 percent of the Orleans Justice Center population, on average. To address this disparity in the local justice system, the City will employ a multi-pronged approach to better identify and address points of disparity in the system. The City will create tracking and accountability mechanisms focused on disparities, and continue to engage the community in developing solutions. The City will also roll out Implicit Bias Trainings, where criminal justice system decision makers will have the opportunity to share experiences and discuss biases in the system. Finally, the City will instruct its officers to rely less on individual’s past criminal records when making detention decisions for low-level offenses, which has been shown to perpetuate biases and contribute to disparities in the system, and instead increase detention alternatives for detainees with prior convictions.
Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to the local level, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have the cumulative costs of building and running them. Nationwide misuse of jails most harshly impacts low-income communities and communities of color. For example, while African Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of Americans, they make up 51 percent of the U.S. jail population, according to a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics and supported by the Foundation. MacArthur launched the Safety and Justice Challenge in February 2015 to address these issues by creating fairer, more effective local justice systems and spurring national demand for reform.
In 2010, Orleans Parish had the largest jail population per capita in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This figure was more than four times the national average. Since then, there have been significant reductions: the local jail population is 4.1 per 1,000 and average daily population is consistently under 1,600 as of 2016. In addition, NOPD officers now use summonses when appropriate in place of arrests. However, the Orleans Justice Center is still among the largest jails in the country per capita. The support of the MacArthur Foundation will allow the City to implement a comprehensive jail population management strategic plan— making fewer unnecessary arrests, strengthening a pre-trial services program, working with our criminal justice partners to reduce the time people are in jail awaiting trial and implementing evidence-based practices that facilitate the transition from jail to the community.
Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to New Orleans and other jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Vera Institute of Justice, Pretrial Justice Institute and W. Haywood Burns Institute.
Information about the selected jurisdictions, as well as news, research, and events related to the Safety and Justice Challenge, will be published on www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org.
About The MacArthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology affects children and society. More information about the Foundation’s work, including in the justice field, is available at www.macfound.org.