This Vera Institute for Justice report found that defendants and their families paid $4.5 million in bail, fines and fees to government agencies in 2015, while jailing people for not being able to afford these payments cost the city of New Orleans $6.4 million. On any given day in 2015, three out of 10 jail beds were occupied by people who couldn’t afford bail.
In addition to the $4.5 million that residents paid to government entities, residents paid $4.7 million to commercial bail bond agents—a total of $9.2 million in non-refundable payments.
Further, Black residents in New Orleans, who are disproportionally impacted by the criminal justice system, bear most of this burden. The median income for black households is just $26,819—57% lower than the median income for white households—and black people are jailed more frequently than white residents for nonpayment of fines and fees.
In 2015, 3,947 people in New Orleans spent time in jail solely because they could not quickly pay bail. And people who did pay bail often spent a significant time in jail before they could do so: it took 11 days on average before defendants who faced felony charges could post bail, and 97% of them did so by buying a nonrefundable commercial bail bond.
The majority of people sentenced in New Orleans were ordered to pay fines and fees. Altogether, 8,331 residents were charged $3.8 million in fines and fees.
While the millions of dollars paid by users of the criminal justice system represents a substantial transfer of wealth from poor communities, it made up just 4% of funding overall for criminal justice in New Orleans, and primarily goes to just a few agencies, including the District Court, the Traffic Court, and the public defender’s office.