Bail industry challenges prison reform efforts

Bail industry challenges prison reform efforts

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A representative of a local bail bond agency says prison reform efforts are dangerous. But some high-level proponents of those efforts say they’re fair and reducing an overburdened jail population.

Before Katrina, there were over 7,000 people in Orleans Parish Prison, a number that has dwindled to one-fifth that amount in recent years.

“Now we are under 1,100 at times,” said City Council president Jason Williams.

Williams has joined Mayor Latoya Cantrell in hailing those reforms through a letter to our partners at | The Times Picayune. Williams and Cantrell say that in 2015, 30% of the people in jail were there simply because they couldn’t afford a bond, and that was an injustice.

“People were there because they were poor and they didn’t have resources to bond out from low-level offenses,” said Williams.

But that effort is getting pushback from local bail bondsmen. They say a new defendant assessment - or public safety assessment system - is misguided.

“If you look at the PSAs we did last week, there are people failing to show three times, and they are still being given cash bond,” said bondsman Matt Dennis.

Williams says there’s nothing wrong with programs that effectively reduce overcrowded jails.

“The risk assessment tool is simply that, it’s not to replace judicial discretion,” said Williams.

But Dennis says judges rely too heavily on risk assessments.

“If you look at PSAs in the court, they are depicting high-risk people but they’re being used to facilitate low bonds,” said Dennis.

The Louisiana Bail Coalition has requested a meeting with judges to discuss the use of the public safety assessment program.

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