NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Members of the Criminal Justice Committee heard a proposed plan Tuesday (July 23), that would eliminate money bails at Orleans Criminal District Court, along with court fines and fees for anyone arrested.
John Wool of the Vera Institute said money bail does not make people safer. Instead, he said the system in place now primarily allows some people to buy their freedom while others are forced to stay in jail because they are poor.
Wool said they’ve had lots of support for their plan to change that.
“Thirty-two organizations signed on to endorse this plan,” Wool said.
Instead of forcing people to pay their way out, Wool said a judge should be deciding whether to detain or release a suspect.
“A risk assessment is part of it, but we also say that people who are arrested for very serious offenses in which prison is the only sentence, those have to be considered for detention," Wool said.
According to state law, anyone arrested for a crime of violence is not eligible for an ROR or free bond. But, Wool said the proposed plan would skirt that law and ask judges to simply impose a bond of a few cents, allowing them to easily get out of jail.
However, Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission said there are flaws to the plan Vera Institute is proposing.
“Judges are not going to ignore state law," Goyeneche said. “If they do what Vera is asking for, it’s a violation of their Judicial Code. It’s a violation of the oath of office they took,”
“There were two rulings from two federal judges in New Orleans. And one of them said that because of the way state law is structured, money bail is unconstitutional. Judges can’t do what they’re legally required to do, which is to set money bail,” Wool said.
Goyeneche said the plan also raises safety concerns, as there’s nothing in place to supervise the suspects released.
“We eliminated electronic monitoring. They’re advocating that more and more people be released, when the jail is at the point right now that the only people in there are violent offenders or repeat offenders, and they want to release more of them without protecting the public,” Goyeneche said.
Councilman Jason Williams applauded the proposed plan.
“I think this won’t just be a blueprint for New Orleans. I think it will be a blueprint for this country to create a system that is fair and just,” Williams said.
As of Tuesday night, it was unclear how the other City Councilors feel about the proposed plan.