Non-violent offenders in N.O. may no longer face jail time

Non-violent offenders in N.O. may no longer face jail time

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People accused of minor, non-violent offenses in the city may no longer face jail time.

The City Council voted unanimously to allow them to be released without bail in most cases. It is something civil rights activists and advocates for the poor have wanted for a long time.

The council's vote came just days after the Vera Institute issued a report stating that almost 4,000 people spent time in the city's jail in 2015 solely because they could not afford bail. Additionally, it said that residents shelled out $4.5 million to government agencies and almost $5 million to bail bonds agents.

"This just puts an undue burden on many members of the culture community," said Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the New Orleans Music and Culture Coalition.

"I think that this will be a great savings to the taxpayer because we will not be paying for people to be sitting in jail on non-violent charges that they have not been convicted of, losing their jobs and not being able to take care of their children, take care of their elderly parents," said City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who took the lead on the ordinance.

Loyola law professor Bill Quigley said the ordinance could spare the city headaches down the road.

"The city by doing this is going to save themselves very costly litigation. There are, at this point, almost two dozen federal civil rights lawsuits against cities across the country, exactly on this point," Quigley said.

A former prominent local bail bondsman now serving as director of Alternatives to Incarceration said accountability is key.

"Any system that protects poor people that are low-risk and not violent and protects them by letting them out immediately with no cost is a good program, okay?  ...Don't hold those people, make it to where they can get out. The bail industry has always supported that," said Matt Dennis.

"This is about bail reform, but the next conversation is about jail because we're keeping people in jail who we don't believe need to be there in the first place," said City Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams.

Several crimes are exempt from the no jail change, including assault and cruelty to animals.

The law should take effect in April.

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