Monday, August 08, 2016

The bail is too damn high

Due the the deplorable conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, a federal judge recently ordered Sheriff Gusman surrender his administrative duties to a "compliance director"  charged with meeting the terms of a consent decree.
The deal allows the sheriff to hire the compliance director, who will have "final authority" over the jail. But the sheriff must hire the director from among three candidates selected by the the Justice Department, inmates represented by the MacArthur Justice Center and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration. The judge has final approval of the hire.

The full-time director, who will be based in New Orleans, will stay in place until Africk decides the jail has substantially implemented changes ordered by a federal consent decree to improve conditions in the facility, according to the agreement -- a task the judge says should be substantially completed within a year.
Last week, Gusman named a panel of luminaries who we suppose will assist him in selecting his own replacement. There's a lot of people on this panel and we're not really how they're going to help, exactly. But here they are.

This week, we find the Vera Institute's latest report on the New Orleans jail population.  A summary and some quick facts can be found here. Among those findings, we see that 90 percent of the population on the  comprised of people waiting to be adjudicated.  This is about what you would expect given the jail's primary purpose. But, remember, this is a facility struggling to meet constitutional standards due, in part, to overcrowding problems. But do they all have to be there?
Out of the 451 people in jail who were assessed for risk and given a risk score, 216—or 48 percent—were found to present a low or low-moderate risk. Those 216 people represented 14 percent of the entire jail population.

These low and low-moderate risk arrestees were held in jail because a judge decided they had to pay a financial bond to get out. One-hundred and eighteen of them were held on a $25,000 bail or less, an unaffordable sum to many: New Orleans’s poverty rate is almost twice the national average. Eighty-five percent of people who go through the criminal justice system are too poor to hire a lawyer.
In other words, nearly half the population at OPP during the time period for which the study was conducted were there only because the bail was too damn high. Tough news for them, of course. But maybe not so bad for prosecutors looking to leverage more favorable pleas from minor offenders. It's worth noting that the DA is on Gusman's selection panel. 

Meanwhile, despite the Vera Institute's findings, and despite the express policy set by the City Council for limiting unnecessary incarceration, there is a competing vision for complying with the judge's order. Build more and bigger jails
The June 28 guest column penned by David Kerstein, CEO of Helis Oil and Gas and chairperson of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, outlined a plan for the “development and maintenance of additional jail facilities” for the city of New Orleans. The plan calls for a major increase in the city’s capacity to jail its residents. The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition vehemently challenges the need for and desirability of this plan.

Further, we are deeply concerned by Kerstein’s assertion that the plan is the result of ongoing meetings with the city administration, the Sheriff’s Office and other unnamed stakeholders. Hasn’t the mayor stated clearly, in word and action, the city’s commitment to a small jail, to greater use of alternatives to incarceration, and to the development of more effective programs of social benefit that will translate into fewer crimes and arrests?
Always money in building more jail, I guess. And there are more and quicker convictions produced from holding people indefinitely. That is, as long as you keep that jail full of people who can't afford the unreasonable bail. Everybody wins, right?

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