|Voter's Guide, 2020 Fall Elections, New Orleans
|Position ||DISTRICT ATTORNEY |
|Name||Jason Rogers Williams|
|Profession||City Council President, Attorney|
|Present Employer / position||Jason Rogers Williams & Associates, New Orleans City Council|
|Length of residence in Jurisdiction||Native New Orleanian. Lived back in New Orleans 30 years full time.|
|List of educational institutions and degrees||Tulane University Law School, New Orleans, LA |
Graduation Date: May 1997
• Moot Court Board
• Criminal Law Clinic
• Student Bar Association, President, First and Second Year Class
• Art Law Society, President and Founding Member
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
Graduation Date: May 1994
Bachelor of Arts, Political Science
• Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities
• Martin M. Kelly Memorial Award
• Tulane Green Wave, Varsity Football (Division I/Conference USA) Full Scholarship
|Prior elected and appointed positions||New Orleans City Council, New Orleans, LA |
May 2014 – Present
City Councilman at Large, Division B
Criminal District Court, New Orleans, LA
State Criminal Court Judge, Pro Tempore, Division B
|Civic involvement and affiliations||American College of Trial Lawyers |
March 2016 - Present
Innocence Project of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
Dec. 2009 – Present
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
2002 – Present
Audubon Nature Institute
May 2011 – 2014
Partnership for Youth Development, New Orleans, LA
March 2010 – 2014
Questions specific to the position
| 1. What are your thoughts about the current bail system? Are you open to releasing more defendants on their own recognizance? What changes do you think are most needed?
||The “user pay” system historically practiced by the judges of Criminal District Court is a clear form of|
money injustice. The inherent problem in this system is that the money taken from 'users' or the people
forced to pay bail, fines and fees before trial or after they are convicted, is then used to fund the courts
and other justice agencies.
Many are faced with the difficult choice the current criminal legal system pushes them to make:
paying their bail, fines and fees, or paying for food and clothing for themselves and their families.
The stark effect of its perverse incentives is that those arrested for non-violent offenses who are poor are
more likely to remain incarcerated and get rearrested simply because they can’t afford the court imposed
fines and fees. Meanwhile, their wealthier counterparts are able pay their way out of the system with little
inconvenience and the wage gap grows bigger.
Criminal District Court continue to set cash bail at higher rates than necessary despite a federal judge
and an appellate court finding that they have a clear conflict of interest in this user-pay system. This
practice continued even as the Court’s budget allocation steadily increased to deter such behavior.
The cost to the city of keeping the average person in custody at our jail is $33.21 a day, on top of the
jail’s normal operating costs. The operating cost to staff one 50 person pod in our jail is approximately
$2.5 million each year that could have otherwise been returned to the City’s coffers and re-invested in
We cannot sit idly by and tacitly endorse debtor’s prisons in the city of New Orleans. For too long, court
fines and fees have been talked about as mechanisms to make the public safer. We all know this not to
be accurate. Access to capital – or simply put, money – has been the determining factor about who sits in
jail and who doesn’t. Eradication of this user pay scheme is not only morally sound, but fiscally and
In August I outlined and published detailed policy reforms I would pursue to bail, fines and fees that can be found at www.runwithjason.com.
As Orleans Parish District Attorney, I will prioritize:
• Immediately upon taking office, seek to evaluate the bail conditions of individuals arrested for low-level, non-violent offenses who continue to be detained in jail pre-trial and recommend alternatives to incarceration where appropriate in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
• Build on the momentum of the 2017 New Orleans City Council ordinance that virtually eliminated the use of money bail for individuals arrested for municipal offenses.
• Cease funding the court system with fees from poor communities.
• Prohibit the jailing of people for poverty offenses, which harms communities more than the offense itself.
• Where state law requires money bail (instead of releases on recognizance, or RORs) to be set for low-level, non-violent offenses, support the setting of nominal amounts so that individuals are not detailed in jail solely because they are poor.
• Recommend the use of alternatives to cash bail where appropriate, based upon individualized needs assessments – for example, regular calls or check-in appointments.
• Promote pre-trial services that make it more likely that individuals will appear in court when required – for example, text message notification.
• Drawing on my experience implementing the Bonds Paid Dashboard as Chair of the New Orleans City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, work with all relevant actors in the criminal justice system to increase transparency on the types of bail being set, and if cash, in what amounts; as well as the types of individuals that are and are not being released from custody pre-trial.
| 2. What changes would you make to improve the handling of domestic abuse cases?
||I am committed to keeping families and children safe, whether in the home, at school, or online.|
As D.A., I will put the full weight of my office against anyone who preys on a child and will strengthen and
aggressively enforce laws to protect women and children from domestic abuse.
It is important that we have a District Attorney that treats all victims with respect and sensitivity. The current and past District Attorneys have failed to prioritize the real needs of victims. The response to violence should be centered on the needs of survivors, based on accountability, and developed in consultation with victim advocates and experts. I will expand support of victim and witness service programs, drastically improve communication with victims and family members, while relying on trauma-informed, evidence-based approaches to handling cases better, particularly cases of sexual and intimate partner violence.
We must never jail rape or domestic abuse survivors. The current District Attorneys has refused to end his grievous practice of jailing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as a means of forcing them to testify. As progressive prosecutors in major American cities have started using their power to repair their communities, it is profoundly troubling that these types of regressive policies still exist in New Orleans. Such actions have a chilling effect on current and future victims and witnesses.
These policies, in some instances, have caused the survivors to spend more time in jail than the actual perpetrators. The idea that a prosecutor would jail victims of violence and sexual assault is misogynistic, barbaric, and despicable. Frankly, it is embarrassing to have this issue play out on the national stage, receiving strong rebukes from Democrats and Republicans alike all across the nation. I will never jail a sexual assault or domestic abuse survivor.
| 3. What procedures will you implement to ensure compliance with current law regarding weapons confiscation for defendants in domestic abuse cases?
||I would create a special unit that would be specifically trained handle these sorts of cases to create serious muscle memory and establish institutional knowledge in the office.|
I would also create in and implement specific protocols that would require certain steps in each DV case including a form that would be completed and signed by DV prosecutors attesting that they have followed all of the office's DV protocols, one of those being all the steps that were followed in each case in accordance with current state law regarding weapons confiscation for defendants in domestic abuse cases.
| 4. What are your thoughts about the best funding mechanism for the public defender's office?
||The continued funding crisis at the New Orleans Public Defender's Office is unacceptable. A metaphorical fire has been raging for years, and they've sounded the alarm to no avail. This office, unlike almost any other, on a yearly basis deals with the constant stress of not knowing if they will have funding to complete the year or when they might have to tell employees already struggling to make ends meet that they have been laid off. That annual reality for the office and the families represented there has repeatedly unaddressed. Lack of constitutional funding and the associated downstream impacts leave lives in the balance. This 'ordinary injustice,' which has been normalized in courts across this country, often leads to life-disrupting, costly and tragic outcomes.|
Public Defenders perform a job where glory isn't commonplace because you represent those who are imperfect and treated as other in the eyes of society. There is the constant stress of knowing the volume of cases on your docket makes it a literal impossibility that each person will get what he or she deserves. Many struggle with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and minimal pay compared to peers in the profession.
I have been fighting for parity in funding for the public defender's office for years and this August, led the effort on the New Orleans City Council to pass Ordinance 33,093 which attempts to reduce the funding disparity whereby the District Attorney's Office receives two dollars in City funds for every dollar received by the Public Defender's Office, not including the significant in-kind support provided to the City's prosecutors and the supplemental resources of the Police Department.
| 5. Given the high incarceration rates, what are your plans about diversion / rehabilitation programs vs jail time?
||As District Attorney, I will treat addiction as a medical problem, not a crime. |
Drug overdose deaths in New Orleans have outpaced homicides in recent years. I recognize and have always argued that the solution to drug addiction is treatment, not incarceration, regardless of the type of drug or ethnicity of the user. Jails and prisons are simply not equipped to treat addiction.
As District Attorney, I will work with criminal court judges and other government actors to increase treatment capacity and opportunities for diversion. This will help those arrested for drug possession or minor addiction-related offenses obtain the treatment they need rather than jail time.
As District Attorney I will also treat mental illness as a medical problem, not a crime.
Untreated and under-treated serious mental illnesses place stress on every facet of the criminal justice system. Jails and prisons are ill-equipped to treat psychiatric disorders, yet as many as 1 in 5 incarcerated persons in the United States suffers a serious mental illness. Once incarcerated, those with serious mental illness are at increased risk of victimization and often do not get the treatment they need, causing even further mental deterioration. It is immoral, ineffective, and extremely costly to use the criminal justice system to warehouse our residents living with mental illness.
As District Attorney, I will work with agencies, stakeholders, and affected citizens to implement a full continuum of coordinated psychiatric treatment and care in communities.
I will double down on the work he has already done as a council member with civil court, mental health activists, and other agencies to expand Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) in New Orleans. AOT is court-supervised treatment for individuals with severe mental illness who meet strict legal criteria.
I will work to move mental health care from the criminal justice system to real long-term treatment options, recognizing the overwhelming body of research establishing the effectiveness of AOT in improving treatment outcomes. The research specifically demonstrates that AOT reduces the risks of hospitalization, arrest and incarceration, homelessness, victimization and violence. It not only increases public safety, but also increases treatment adherence and eases the strain placed on family members or other primary caregivers.