Race, gender neutral plan aims to reduce New Orleans jail population

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NEW ORLEANS — Aimed at reducing the jail population in New Orleans, a new Public Safety Assessment (PSA) model was unveiled today. The PSA tool will assist judges and the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Pretrial Services department with assessing the risk level defendants pose if released pending trial. The PSA provides information that is race‐ and gender‐neutral. The tool will help create a safer, fair and cost‐effective pretrial service system to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention by identifying a defendant’s risk of failure to appear and commit a crime while out on bail.

Over three days last week, stakeholders, including judges, were trained on the PSA under the supervision of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and in partnership with Criminal District Court and the City of New Orleans. “Following the Rule of Law and applying fairness at all times is the right thing to do,” said Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson. “The implementation of the PSA tool will offer evidence‐based data to assist judges and commissioners in determining whether release or detention is appropriate considering the charges faced by a defendant.”

Developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the PSA model helps guide pretrial decision-making in an effort to increase safety, reduce taxpayer costs, and enhance fairness and efficiency in the system. “It’s a two part process,” according to Tracey Flemings‐Davillier, Criminal District Court judge. “First data is collected during the pre‐trial assessment. A risk score is then calculated using a rubric based on nine indicators,” she said. “The second phase is the needs assessment that will allow the judge to feel more comfortable releasing the defendant, knowing his needs will be addressed and assistance will be provided,” said Flemings‐Davilier.

Needs assessments are completed utilizing the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS). During this phase other factors that may hinder a pre‐trial defendant’s return to court are considered. ORAS offers ways to quantify and qualify the needs of the defendant. ”Every defendant does not have a need. There are various levels of monitoring and needs. A defendant may simply need to know why he has been arrested, he may need medical care or assistance with substance abuse,” said Flemings‐Davillier. “A defendant’s needs may entail continuous contact with the supervision team, court reminders and drug testing when applicable,” she said. “We want a tool that is a workable model that provides more insight so judges can adequately assess the risk level of a defendant,” Orleans Criminal Court Chief Judge Keva Landrum‐Johnson said. “Research indicates that pre‐trial detention of low risk defendants increases the likelihood of future crime. We believe the collaboration will better assist us in our criminal reform efforts.”

Since 2013 the PSA tool has been used by judges in 36 jurisdictions in America, including New Jersey, Kentucky and Arizona. A nationwide launch of the tool will soon be made accessible online to any interested jurisdictions. “We are excited to be the first jurisdiction in Louisiana to implement a nationally recognized risk assessment tool. We are looking forward to sharing information with the rest of the state. Thank you to Chief Justice Johnson for making this a reality,”