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Pretrial evaluations 

Expanding VERA Program?

  Criminal Justice Commissioner James Carter says he has put in an initial budget request of $623,000 for the Vera Institute of Justice's pretrial services program, which has been operating in Orleans Parish Prison's Intake Processing Center since the end of April. Carter revealed the budget request during last week's City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting.

  Pretrial Service staff members evaluate arrestees to determine if, and to what extent, each presents a risk of reoffending or being arrested, as well as failing to make court appearances if they are released on a nonfinancial bond or a low bond. The evaluations are given to judges who may (but are not compelled to) use them as a guide in setting bonds.

  Between April 30 and Aug. 3, the program's two staffers — who work weekdays from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. — evaluated 928 arrestees, or 65 percent of all felony bookings, according to statistics presented by Vera New Orleans director Jon Wool and project director Lisa Simpson. Of those, 265, or 29 percent, were released on nonfinancial or low bonds, defined as $2,500 or less.

  Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Magistrate Gerard Hansen told councilmembers about a recent case where the court was unaware of an arrestee's extensive criminal history until receiving the report from Vera. "And he was almost released on a recognizance bond. If it wasn't for Vera, we wouldn't have known this," Hansen said.

  Carter says the allocation, if approved, should pay to expand the program to around-the-clock service in 2013, covering 100 percent of New Orleans felony arrests. — Charles Maldonado

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