Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office has hired a longtime advocate for criminal justice defendants to oversee efforts to reduce the jail population in Orleans Parish.
Virginia B. Ryan, who has worked for the Orleans Public Defenders Office for the past seven years, will also be involved in efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system, Sheriff's Office spokesman Philip Stelly said in a release Sunday.
She starts work Monday with the title of justice system administrator.
In filling the position, the Sheriff's Office complied with a "key provision" of a $1.5 million safety and justice challenge grant awarded in April 2016 by the MacArthur Foundation, Stelly said.
The grant was given so local authorities could implement a plan to reduce the jail population by 21 percent by mid-2019 and also eliminate disparities in the system.
Ryan will be responsible for identifying detainees who may be safely released, will help find "appropriate housing" for detainees when the jail's capacity has been exceeded and will "facilitate in court matters that have been unduly delayed," Stelly said.
In the future, she will coordinate with criminal justice partners in efforts to improve case administration and will serve on a committee that oversees the city’s jail population reduction plan.
Ryan will report to Compliance Director Gary Maynard, the official hired in 2016 to oversee operation of the Orleans Justice Center and implementation of the reforms outlined in a 2013 federal consent decree mandating sweeping changes at the facility.
In a statement, City of New Orleans Criminal Justice Commissioner Calvin Johnson called Ryan's appointment a "critical step" toward "right-sizing" New Orleans' jail population, an effort that's been going on for years.
The city has reduced the jail population by 50 percent since 2010, said Johnson, a former Criminal District Court judge. Despite that success, he said, inefficiencies in the criminal justice system continue to bog down reduction efforts — an impediment he hopes Ryan will help mitigate.
"For too long, we have seen lower-risk defendants remain in jail on bond they cannot afford, and cases get delayed because of the complexity of the system," Johnson said. "Ryan brings dedication and significant experience to a role that will help us reverse our long history of over-detention.”
Ryan has spent seven years at the Orleans Public Defenders Office, most recently as deputy supervisor of the Client Service Division.
In that position, she was responsible for recruiting, training and supervising client advocates and a large number of fellows, interns and volunteers who supported a staff of more than 50 attorneys. She previously served as the office's medical and mental health coordinator.
Prior to joining the Public Defenders Office in 2010 as a client advocate, Ryan was an advocate at Resurrection After Exoneration, a New Orleans-based nonprofit working with people wrongfully convicted and formerly on death row.
She also interned at the mental health court of the District of Columbia Superior Court.
She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Maynard said jail authorities are pleased to have someone with Ryan's experience join their team.
"She has a strong working relationship with our criminal justice partners, so we anticipate that she will have an immediate impact on our ability to navigate cases through the criminal justice system more efficiently and more equitably," Maynard said.
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