Extortion for Freedom Practice Common with Ankle Monitoring, Pre-Trial Supervision fees
BATON ROUGE, La. – Two Baton Rouge residents have reached a settlement of their federal and state claims against Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI), a private company, and its owner Cleve Dunn, Sr. RHI charged Baton Rouge residents fees after they were released from the local parish prison and put on pre-trial supervision. These fees were not bail or fines, but RHI said they were required for the company to monitor people out on pre-trial release. The company threatened to send people back to jail if the fees were not paid.
The settlement stems from a complaint filed by Tayari Ross and Kaiasha White against RHI and Dunn for incarcerating them until they paid RHI’s fees. With the assistance of attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, and the ACLU Foundation, they sued Dunn for violating the Louisiana and the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Acts by illegally extorting money. White also sued RHI for violating her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and equal protection under the law, among other state law violations. After the lawsuit was filed, RHI stopped operating in the courts.
"RHI used our courts to run an illegal shakedown scheme that preyed on our most vulnerable communities," said Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. "We're glad RHI is no longer operating in courts, but the fight against wealth-based incarceration and predatory supervision schemes must continue. Each day, thousands of people languish in jail -- not based on their guilt or innocence -- but because they cannot afford to buy their freedom. We won't rest until justice is restored and no Louisianans is punished for being poor."
“RHI used our justice system to make money off of the most vulnerable,” said Emily Early, senior staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Courts must stop relying on private companies like RHI that impose onerous fees and conditions as a form of pretrial release. These arrangements fly in the face of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and due process under the law because the practice unfairly uses a person’s economic situation as a basis for freedom without any consideration of ability to pay. Freedom should never be decided based on the size of one’s wallet.”
The company charged an initial $525 “start-up” fee before individuals could be released from jail. This fee was charged prior to any court deciding a person’s guilt or innocence, and with no determination of ability to pay or alternatives for payment. Once individuals were released from jail after paying the initial fee, RHI charged additional fees, including a $225 monthly supervision fee, a fee for ankle monitoring, and fees to attend required classes.
Unfortunately, this practice and similar practices are not uncommon in cash-strapped cities with large populations awaiting trial.