Every year in the U.S., two million people with mental illness are booked into jails, leading to a cycle of incarceration for these individuals. One in three persons in the Orleans Justice Center Jail are treated for addiction or mental illness, and these individuals remain in the jail more than twice as long as those who do not have a mental illness. Black men bear the brunt of the parish’s use of incarceration as a solution to mental health crises and substance use disorders, making up 90% of incarcerated individuals facing these challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have shifted the landscape of criminal justice reform in America dramatically, leading to calls to dismantle our nation’s endemic over-reliance on incarceration and presenting an opportunity to reconceptualize local systems of justice permanently.
The City of New Orleans is at the forefront of these efforts. In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, the City has joined the Safety, and Justice Challenge (SJC) and has instituted multiple programs and working groups to reduce its jail population and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. This includes the deployment and institutionalization of a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which will divert adults away from the prison system into facilities better equipped to support treatment and recovery for mental health crises and addiction. FUSE will partner with New Orleans to institutionalize the city’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiatives, with a primary focus on scaling the LEAD program citywide.