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How New Orleans Stopped Making Jailing a Business

A new report details how the city reduced its local inmate population by 67 percent since Hurricane Katrina struck.
New Orleans city jail inmates stranded during Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans city jail inmates stranded during Hurricane KatrinaREUTERS/Jason Reed

So many problems in New Orleans were magnified following Hurricane Katrina: overloaded public housing and hospitals, failing schools, rampant poverty, the organized crime and violence of police. Another issue the city continues to grapple with is its jail system: The state of Louisiana is known as the prison incarceration capital of the world, and New Orleans was the jail capital of the nation in 2005. That year, which is when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the city was jailing more people per capita than any other major city, and at four times the national average.

New Orleans still has one of the largest per-capita inmate populations of any U.S. city, but it has reduced that population significantly since Katrina—by a 67 percent drop, according to a new report from The Data Center in New Orleans. The report details how the city achieved that through a substantial reshaping of its criminal justice system.