New Orleans, dubbed “the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state” in the country by Mayor Mitch Landau, recently conducted a test of a pilot program to gauge the effect of eliminating cash bail in the district.
For six months, Orleans Parish criminal district court allowed “low-risk” defendants to be released without bail. The results, according to a new report by Court Watch Nola, found that these defendants appeared in court at roughly the same rate as those who had paid bail to secure their release. The test also found that the defendants were re-arrested for subsequent crimes at roughly the same rate as those who paid bail.
The test challenges the opinion held by cash bail advocates that the system ensures defendants return to court and dissuades them from committing future crimes.
The test went so well, according to Citylab, that the program was expanded to all four commissioners’ courts this month.
“Low-risk” defendants are people who, based on their histories, are less likely to miss court appearances or to be re-arrested. According to the report by Court Watch, there are three times as many “low-risk” defendants as there are “high-risk” defendants.
“This means that the biggest reason we are paying so much for unnecessary incarceration is to incarcerate defendants who will likely return to court and are not a danger to public safety,” Simone Levine, executive director of Court Watch, told Citylab.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the cash bail system is currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, after prosecutors in Harris County, Texas, appealed a ruling by Chief United States District Judge Lee Rosenthal that the county’s cash bail policies and practices violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. If the federal appeals court rules in Judge Rosenthal’s favor, it could end cash bail on a national scale.
Read the full Citylab article here.