NEW ORLEANS - At its meeting on July 23, the City Council Criminal Justice Committee launched a first of its kind Bonds Paid Public Information Dashboard crafted by Public Safety Analyst Jeff Asher, and heard presentations from a coalition of local advocacy organizations working to end money bail as a condition of pre-trial release from detention. The panel included Jon Wool & Alison Shih from the Vera Institute of Justice, Alanah Odoms Hebert with the Louisiana ACLU, Alfredo Cruz from Foundation for Louisiana and Alfred Marshall representing Stand with Dignity.
The panel of experts discussed the details of the Vera Institute's 2019 Report, "Paid in Full." The "Paid in Full" report focuses on the history of money injustice in the New Orleans criminal legal system and devises a plan for system actors to eradicate the burden of money bail and conviction fines and fees while focusing instead on safety and fairness.
Per an excerpt from the report's executive summary, these practices have long plagued New Orleans, driving unnecessary and harmful jail incarceration, pulling millions of dollars out of the pockets of struggling families, grounding the legal system in fundamental unfairness, and costing all of the city's taxpayers far more.
The expert panel was preceded by a demonstration of the Council's new public information dashboard which was launched the day before and provides information on bonds paid as a condition of release for criminal charges this year, the average amounts set over 12 months, and the percentage of bonds under $1,000 over 12 months. The dashboard empowers New Orleanians to see the amounts of money extracted from their respective communities for money bail.
Councilmember Williams said, "Money bail should not be used as the sole determiner of whether someone has to spend time in jail. We cannot forget that bail is a condition imposed on a person before a person has even been found guilty of a crime. While standing accused, the difference between being able to fight your case from the outside and maintain your life, or languish in jail, is attached to a dollar figure. That dollar figure indicates wealth rather than a threat to public safety when a well-heeled individual has a greater chance of attaining freedom than an individual with little means."
Alfredo Cruz said, "Foundation for Louisiana is proud to support the plan to end money injustice. For too long this practice has resulted in disparate impacts for poor, and primarily black New Orleanians. We need to seize the opportunity to help keep money where it belongs, in the pockets of struggling families and in our communities."
Jon Wool said, "This is a historic opportunity for New Orleans to be the first city to simultaneously eliminate both legs of money injustice-money bail and conviction fees. And, it's something we have to do to make our system lawful, fair, and truly safety-promoting. The Mayor and Council have changed the funding structure and the system is paid in full. Now we need to change practices to match the City's funding commitment."
Alanah Hebert said, "The next step is for judges to reform their practices. We must support them as they implement the blueprint Vera and our other partners have thoughtfully laid out."
Alfred Marshall said, "Stand members and all of us who have been beaten down by the money-based criminal legal system expect our elected officials to finally give us relief. We are 100% behind this plan and will keep working to see that it is fully put into place."
Councilmember Williams continued, "More and more we see jurisdictions nationally working to move away from bail and other types of pay to play structures, and New Orleans history demands that we be a leader in this space. During my time on the City Council, I have made a commitment to public-facing information that puts the tools citizens need at their fingertips. We live in a world where hyperbole and false flags can rule headlines for weeks regardless of truth or logic. As an elected leader, my job is to be a conduit for accuracy and fact, not a contributor to the rhetoric and fear-mongering."
Keith D. Lampkin, Chief of Staff
Councilmember Jason Rogers Williams, At-Large