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The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $100,000 to the Vera Institute of Justice’s New Orleans office (Vera) to support its research into and cost-benefit analysis of New Orleans’s user-funded justice system. Vera will examine the imposition of financial bail as a condition of pretrial release, the assessment of fines and fees at sentencing, and the relationship between these practices and the number of people in jail.
The issue of bail, fine and fee policies resulting in jail time for people who are unable to pay (see this video explanation created by Vera) appears to us to have recently been gaining attention and traction. Several lawsuits have successfully challenged the practice of detaining people pretrial because of an inability to pay bail or jailing people because they are unable to pay a fine or fee. However, our impression is that national and local discussions have so far lacked high-quality data and in-depth analyses on the extent to which bail, fines and fees drive local jail populations. This grant will support Vera’s New Orleans office to analyze the costs to tax payers and the toll it takes on mostly low-income defendants, then put forward a set of actionable recommendations for reform.