New Orleans Criminal Justice Commissioner James Carter said he believes the city is committed to funding the Vera Institute of Justice's new pre-trial services program beyond the 2012 fiscal year. "We're confident it will go forward," Carter said during a May 15 panel discussion at Tulane University on pre-trial detention.
The program has been operating inside Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) since April 30, and the city has committed $200,000 to the project for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Vera's pre-trial program is designed to determine the risk of a criminal defendant fleeing prosecution or committing a crime while awaiting trial. The goal of the program is to properly assess who should be in jail and who should be released prior to trial, says Vera director Jon Wool.
The result, according to Wool, will likely be an increase in the number of non-financial bond releases for low-risk defendants — typically people charged with non-violent crimes and without extensive criminal histories — resulting in a reduced population at OPP.
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who also spoke at the panel, said the recent closure of OPP's House of Detention facility has brought OPP's capacity down to about 2,691 beds, from 3,500 at the beginning of 2011 and more than 7,500 in 2005. The average daily population of OPP, Gusman said, is about 2,600.
"Anyone who knows anything about jails knows we're right at that tipping point," Gusman said.
The sheriff's office has seen a recent spike in prisoner escapes, including two last week — one from the jail and one inmate who ran from a work detail in City Park, triggering a midday manhunt for an escapee in his underwear. Both inmates were quickly captured.
— CHARLES MALDONADO