Proposed ordinance would mean no bail or pre-trial detention for minor charges

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - A City Council committee will consider an ordinance today that will allow people charged with minor offenses in the city to be released on their own recognizance and given a date to return to court. In other words — no bail and no pre-trial detention for minor offenses.

For more serious offenses like domestic violence, battery or illegal carrying of a weapon charges, defendants would have a first appearance hearing within 24 hours of the arrest, and in no case would the bond exceed $2,500.

The Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition has been advocating for this ordinance for more than a year. Supporters say the measure would reduce the jail population.

In the first seven months of 2016, there were more than 1,000 bookings for municipal offenses. The average length of stay was three days.

Coalition members say many of those arrested are unemployed or low-income. They cannot afford to pay bail, and just take a plea deal to get out of jail or they end up in jail for weeks, months or even years.

We spoke with Dolfinette Martin. Her son, who had no prior criminal history, was arrested for giving police a fake name. She says trying to get him out for that small crime was a horrible experience.

"To have to choose to leave your child in jail or pay $62 to get him out, I mean, it's not an option. You can't leave him there. It took three family members to come up with 62 dollars, which to some people isn't much. We didn't have it," said Martin, an advocate of the Municipal Charge Ordinance.

"A lot of these people who come in for these minor municipal charges are unable to bail out, so they're sitting in jail for four to six weeks, sometimes months, and within that time a lot of these people are unable to return to their jobs - and worst case scenario - whenever they do leave jail their belongings are out in the street because the landlord had evicted them," said Divonite Almestica, who also supports the Municipal Charge Ordinance.

If approved by the criminal justice committee, it will head to the full council for consideration.

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