New Legislation Seeks to Address Louisiana’s High Pretrial Incarceration Rate by Curbing Prolonged Jail Stays

House Bill 46, introduced by Rep. Ted James and Rep. Edmond Jordan, would shorten the amount of time Louisianans can be jailed without charge

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
March 25, 2021 10:00 am

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NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today announced strong support of legislation that would limit the amount of time individuals can be incarcerated without charge to five days in most cases and 30 days for more serious offenses, codifying the right to counsel at the preliminary hearing. House Bill 46, introduced by State Representatives Ted James and Edmond Jordan, seeks to address Louisiana’s high incarceration rate by curbing unnecessarily long jail stays.

“This year, Louisiana’s legislators have an opportunity to take a crucial first step toward ending our state’s pretrial crisis and restoring the fundamental principle that people are innocent until proven guilty,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “For far too long, our pretrial system has unjustly targeted Black people and failed to improve public safety. The idea that someone can languish in jail for weeks and months without charge, conviction, or even the opportunity to see a lawyer or a judge is contradictory to everything our justice system is meant to represent. At the ACLU, we are energized and excited to support this bill as we continue to build a movement that dismantles systemic racism and achieves the transformational reforms needed to end this crisis once and for all. And we thank Representative James for his leadership in championing this long-overdue measure. For Louisiana’s families, communities, and taxpayers, reforms like HB 46 can’t come soon enough.”

The ACLU of Louisiana spent two years gathering and analyzing thousands of jail records, and interviewing people directly affected by pretrial incarceration in order to compose a snapshot of who the state incarcerates pretrial, for how long, and at what cost. The resulting report exposed a skyrocketing pretrial incarceration rate and staggering racial disparities. Louisiana has the highest pretrial incarceration rate in the country, jailing thousands of people without charge or conviction. Almost 60% of people jailed pretrial are arrested for non-violent offenses, like minor drug possession and unpaid citations. Furthermore, Black people are 2.3 times more likely than white people to be jailed following arrest, and Black people are held in jail about 36% longer than white detainees—all at an annual cost to taxpayers of nearly $300 million.

“Unnecessarily long jail stays impose an immense financial burden on taxpayers and fuel our mass incarceration crisis,” said ACLU of Louisiana Advocacy Director Chris Kaiser. “Our research uncovered overwhelming evidence that people trapped in this legal limbo have largely been accused of low-level offenses, but simply can’t afford to pay the bail that would buy their freedom. Today, we allow people to wait months in jail only to have their charges dropped—or never filed at all. This ballooning pretrial incarceration system impacts everyone, ruins people’s livelihoods, and has no discernible public safety benefit. This affects all of us, and House Bill 46 takes a common-sense step toward ending it.”

Right now, thousands of people who have not been charged with a crime or found to be dangerous in any way are sitting in jail in our state. After a misdemeanor arrest, Louisiana law allows prosecutors to wait up to 45 days—a month and a half—before even looking at evidence, talking to witnesses, or reviewing a police report. This charging window increases to 60 days for felonies and 120 days for crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. By preventing these extraordinary delays, House Bill 46 would immediately decrease our state’s overall pretrial population.

A fact sheet on the bill is online here:

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