Before Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, the rate at which the city jailed people stood at five times the national average. From 1981 until the arrival of the storm, the jail population grew from 2,300 inmates to 6,300. The nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission found that close to half of the people who did time between 2003 and 2004 did not end up getting prosecuted, and just 7 percent ultimately received prison sentences. Of all the arrests that resulted in jail time, 86 percent were the result of nonviolent charges.
In the past decade, New Orleans has reversed course, reports Slate. A report by the Data Center, was co-written by the Vera Institute and retired Orleans Parish Judge Calvin Johnson, describes how a reform movement, sparked by the devastating damage Hurricane Katrina did to the jail, has reduced the city's daily jail population by 67 percent, from 6,000 before the storm to fewer than 1,900 in April. “The storm and its aftermath required the rebuilding of the entire jail complex, just physically speaking,” said Vera’s Jon Wool, dding that attention became focused on the system's deeper problems when it was revealed that some inmates had been abandoned in the OPP as it filled with floodwater before finally being evacuated. The daunting task of rebuilding the jail after Katrina had a positive effect, in that it forced city officials to take stock of how they had been using the jail system up to that point.