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New Orleans gets $2M grant to help reduce inmate population

Posted: 3:56 PM, Feb 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-11 16:56:13-05

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The MacArthur Foundation is giving New Orleans a $2 million grant over the next two years to help reduce the number of people held in its jails, The New Orleans Advocate reported Sunday.

The city’s criminal justice commissioner, Tenisha Stevens, said Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration hopes to lessen the number of inmates by 200 – to fewer than 1,000 – next year.

Although his office will receive roughly $300,000 of the grant, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro criticized the effort at a luncheon Wednesday, saying over-incarceration is a “myth” and that most in jail are accused of violent offenses. He said he wants fewer inmates across Louisiana, but that it must be because of less crime not “some grand social experiment espoused by sheltered academics and naive politicians.”

The grant adds to the $1.5 million New Orleans has received from MacArthur since 2015. The foundation opposes high incarceration rates and is giving $166 million to dozens of cities to cut local jail populations.

New Orleans has spent its money on a tool to gauge the risk recent arrestees would pose upon release, follow-up bail reviews for inmates lingering in jail and a project to release more on their own recognizance.

The city’s ambitious goals are followed by a significant drop in its jail population – a decline of almost two-thirds. New Orleans had more than 3,300 people behind bars in 2010. On Friday, the total parish sheriff’s office population was 1,191 inmates.

Officials are making sure people are not being held when they can safely be released, Stevens said. She said that amid the effort last year, New Orleans had its lowest homicide tally since 1971. There were also less shootings and robberies.

Stevens said Cannizzaro’s stance is “puzzling,” but she worked as an investigator in his office from 2003 to 2017 and is taking a pragmatic approach to working with him on the strategy.

“At the end of the day the DA is the top law enforcement (official) for the city, so he needs to be at the table with us making decisions,” she said.