Everyone in New Orleans deserves to be safe. We rely on our criminal justice agencies—the police, the courts, and the jail—to ensure public safety, so we should ask ourselves regularly: how well is our system working? By looking at who we hold in our jail and why, we can begin to understand the role of detention in keeping our community safe and inform what our jail needs are, both now and going forward.

Until recently, New Orleans led the nation in jail incarceration: before Katrina, we jailed people at a rate five times the national average. The consequences were dramatic for the tens of thousands of people booked into the jail each year who lost their jobs, homes, and even custody of their children. Instead of making us the safest city in America, this over-use of detention destabilized communities.

How are we using detention today? Generally, people are held in jail for any number of reasons. Therefore, unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question of "who is in our jail?" This report aims to advance an important public conversation about how we are using our jail and how it impacts safety in our city.

  • Despite common practice to detain defendants even when they are assessed as “low risk”, New Orleans has more than enough beds to accommodate both its current and projected jail population. The vast majority of people in New Orleans's jail have not been tried or convicted and many are low risk.
  • Black men in New Orleans were 50 percent more likely than white men, and black women 55 percent more likely than white women, to be arrested.
  • Ninety percent of inmates in New Orleans' jail were not serving a sentencing, but awaiting adjudication.
  • Forty-eight percent of people in New Orleans' jail who were assessed for risk were found to be low or low-moderate-risk. They were held in jail because a judge decided they have to pay a financial bond to get out, which they were unable to afford.