In a report looking at New Orleans' "user-pay" criminal justice system, the Vera Institute of Justice found a wildly disproportionate bail system that significantly affects poor black New Orleanians and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. January's "Past Due: Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans" found that on any given day in 2015, 558 people were jailed because they couldn't make bail or pay fines and fees. In total, the city collected $4.5 million from bail, fines and fees — but it cost the city $6.4 million to jail people for not paying them.
Nearly one-quarter of the city lives below the poverty line, the report notes, with a median income among black residents of $26,819, 57 percent lower than the median income among white residents. "Collecting millions of dollars annually from individuals and families involved in the criminal justice system represents a siphoning of resources from historically under-resourced black communities," the report says. "The enormous cost to people to extract a relative penny raises serious questions about whether charging users is worth it, let alone appropriate given that it leads to jailing those who can't pay."
On Jan. 12, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing people charged with minor offenses to be released from jail without having to pay bail and given a date to return to court.