10.05.18



DEAR MEMBERS OF NEW ORLEANS CITY COUCIL :





WE WRITE AS A GROUP OF CONCERNED RESIDENTS OF NEW ORLEANS.



There is an opportunity, in this moment, to fix an ailing court system that places onerous financial burdens on our most vulnerable citizens while doing nothing to secure our safety. Two recent, federal court decisions have spoken loudly and clearly: the current system is unconstitutional. Under the current system, people are jailed for being poor while those with money to pay, go free. This kind of “user-pay” model creates perverse incentives for judges to act in favor of raising revenue not in the interest of justice.


We know that state law does not require the City to fund all the Court’s expenses. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the $3.1 million currently appropriated to the Court consists of voluntary funding by the City. Nevertheless, the City can and should fully fund the Court’s operations and condition continued funding on performance measures that will bring the Court into compliance with our Constitution and the decisions in Cain and Caliste.


To fund itself, the Court currently relies on money acquired from bail, fines, and fees that it sets and collects. This creates an illegal conflict of interest. Instead of deciding cases impartially as the U.S. Constitution requires and prioritizing justice, public safety, and rehabilitation, the current system forces judges to set higher bail, fines, and fees, and to jail people when they can’t pay. Ultimately, the system costs too much to sustain, while failing to keep us safe.


The price of this system is too high.

Because judges are motivated to set high bail, fines, and fees:

  • • New Orleanians sit in jail for weeks and months because they can’t afford bail or to pay fines and fees. As a result, those detained lose employment, income, and the ability to pay bail completely. Families are left to make up for the absence of their loved one while also assisting with paying bail as well as any fines and fees.
  • • Individuals and their families are often left with an insurmountable cycle of debt which can exacerbate existing financial inequalities. Most households of color in New Orleans are living on the “brink of financial catastrophe.”1 Most don’t have enough savings to cover 3 months of living above the poverty line if there is a disruption in employment or income.2
  • • Black communities are disproportionately impacted. In 2015, eighty-four percent (84%) of bond premiums and fees were paid by black families, totaling $5.4 million.
  • • In one-year, New Orleans families paid $4.2 million in fees and premiums to commercial bail bondsmen. Add that to the 1.4 million in fees that went to the Court. This massive transfer of wealth digs families deeper into financial hardship.3
  • • Relying on fines and fees to run the Court ends up costing more money than it takes in. In 2015, the Court collected $4.5 million in revenue from bail, fines and fees, but the City spent $6.4 million to jail people who couldn’t pay.4

The current practices aren’t effective in raising revenue and aren't keeping us safe.

  • • Money bail doesn’t ensure that people show up to Court. In 2015, eighty-eight percent (88%) of people who were perceived to be low risk and who were released pre-trial without posting money bail made all Court appearances as required, none were re-arrested.5
  • • Eighty-three percent (83%) of people considered to be the highest risk also appeared in Court without being required to post money bail. None of these individuals were re-arrested.
  • • Conversely, when fines and fees are assessed, people are considerably less likely to show up for future Court dates if they’re afraid of being locked up for failure to pay.
  • • While demanding payment, the current system takes employment and millions of dollars per year from those who can least afford it. It forces people into cycles of poverty and does not, in fact, keep our communities safe.
  • • Alternatively, this money could instead be spent on food, shelter, education, and the local economy to build stronger families and communities. It could be spent on infrastructure and investments that are proven to both make our communities safer for everyone while also lowering incarceration rates.


The City Council can act now to fully fund the Court’s operations and condition that funding on changes in the Court’s practices that will comply with the Constitution and be less costly to our community, all while maintaining our safety.


Now is the time to demand more from the Court. City Council should demand that the Court agree to:

  • • End the use of money bail as an ineffective way to secure an individual’s appearance in court;
  • • Allocate full funding to the courts for operations in the City’s budget in exchange for transparency and clearly defined performance measures.
  • • Comply fully with the district court judgments in Cain and Caliste and immediately withdraw the appeals in both cases;
  • • Forgive all outstanding fines and fees debt owed to the Court;
  • • Recall all warrants for failure to appear for matters related to payment, to be replaced with summons for hearings where individuals will be given the opportunity to enter payment plans based on their ability to pay; • In line with our Constitution, end the imposition of any conditions of pretrial release that require payment by the defendant.






The New Orleans Alliance for Equity and Justice (NOAEJ) is a project supported by the Foundation for Louisiana. The Alliance is comprised of organizations, individuals, and concerned citizens who want to see the end of bail, fines and fees in New Orleans and across our nation.





JOIN the statement :



Residents, organizations, and coalitions are all encouraged to sign in solidarity. We need every voice to take a stand against bail, fines and fees in New Orleans and across our nation.











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