A new report claims one in seven adults in New Orleans has a warrant out for their rest.
We think with a little bit of effort NOLA can get that number up to two in seven adults by the end of the week.
It's Monday morning in the Municipal and Traffic Court of New Orleans - misdemeanor rush hour in a city that traffics more heavily than most in public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.
Fifty-two arrestees, outfitted in orange and maroon jumpsuits, await their first appearance before a judge. Most are black. All require a public defender. And more than half of them are here, their hands chained against their stomachs, because they missed a court date for a minor crime, triggering an arrest warrant.
Lauren Anderson, a public defender and attorney supervisor for Municipal Court, is furious as she looks over a list of their names. "It doesn't make any sense," she says. "We're not making the city any safer," she said. "We're only hurting these people, and we just keep doing it over and over. It's infuriating."
There are more than 56,000 outstanding warrants in New Orleans's Municipal Court, dating to 2002, according to city data. A staggering 1 of 7 adults in the country's 50th-largest city have a warrant out for their arrest.
Typically, the crime is failing to appear for scheduled court dates for minor, nonviolent offenses that do not carry a jail sentence, including panhandling and fishing without a license. (Two notable exceptions are battery and domestic abuse, which account for roughly 6 percent of all the warrants.) Anderson characterizes most of them as old nuisance crimes bogging down an already overburdened criminal justice system.
Now, a coalition of elected officials, local civil rights organizations such as Stand With Dignity and the public defender's office is proposing a more permanent solution - wiping out nearly all 56,000 warrants, in addition to any debt accumulated from fines and fees.
If successful, New Orleans would be at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the use of warrants and the threat of arrest when the underlying charge might be little more than public intoxication. Only two cities - Ferguson, Missouri, and San Francisco - and the state of New Jersey have attempted anything similar, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center in New York.