The cost of justice targets the poor, new report claims

A new study says that high bail costs keep innocent people behind bars while they wait for their court date.

NEW ORLEANS -- Critics say the cost of justice is extremely high and unfair, especially for those who are unable to bail themselves out.

New Orleans resident Roy Brumfield said he was one of those people, serving time for theft of a firearm.

"The longest I stayed was like six months. I can honestly say me and a couple of friends that I know have pleaded guilty to charges just to get out of jail because of the necessities of being home outweigh being in jail. So I did what I had to do," Brumfield said.

That is why Brumfield attended the event, "Past Due: Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans." An event focusing on a recent study issued by the VERA Institute of Justice.

The non-profit found that in Orleans Parish prisons, more than 500 inmates are locked up because they are too poor to pay for freedom. The report also says three out of 10 jail beds are filled with people who cannot afford bail.

The study also found that in 2015, the city spent $6.4 million to incarcerate people who couldn’t pay bail or conviction fines and fees, compared to $4.5 million that was collected from people who could.

"In criminal district court, for those facing felonies, nearly everyone needs to rely on commercial bail to pay their way out because a typical bail is $20,000, which scarcely anyone can afford," Christian Henrichson, Research Director for VERA Institute of Justice said.

Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton says he deals with this every single day.

"What I've seen in our work in the Public Defenders Office is many people who are often not a risk of flight, Who are not a danger to their community, being jailed for basically being too poor to make bail," Bunton said.

Matthew Dennis runs a national  pre-trial supervision program called "Alternative to Incarceration."

"Nobody wants to see a low-risk, low-level, non-violent offender stuck in jail. And, in most cases, they're not, Dennis said. "What you may find in most cases, you'll see a low risk, non-violent person who may still be in jail because they can't do even a small bond. But that's not because of the bond. It's not because they're poor. It's because of their history. They're stuck in jail because they were arrested and charged with a crime."

Dennis also believes there are plenty of factors behind high bail costs, like being a repeat offender or the extent of the crime.

"You can't just let a shoplifter go. I might be a store owner who keeps getting robbed by this shoplifter. You're hurting my business, and you're hurting my other customers," Dennis said.

Brumfield only hopes that there is some kind of criminal justice reform because he feels that right now minorities and the poor are the ones suffering the most.

"I hate to say it, but it's a harsh reality of being black in New Orleans. Sometimes you have to swallow a bullet not to get killed," Brumfield said.

(© 2017 WWL)


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