NEW ORLEANS – A coalition of civil rights and social justice groups filed coordinated public records requests to each of the 64 jails across Louisiana today demanding accurate information and immediate action to reduce the number of people being held in Louisiana jails awaiting trial.
The coalition, which is spearheaded by Operation Restoration, Voices of the Experienced (VOTE), and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, convened in response to alarming and conflicting reports by the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association about the number of people being held in Louisiana jails awaiting trial.
“Pretrial detention causes people to lose their jobs, separates them from their families and upends their whole lives. Even one person left to languish in jail without being tried is one too many,” said Norris Henderson, Founder and Executive Director of VOTE. “Regardless of the reason for these lengthy detentions, they are an unacceptable and shameful failure of our legal system that must be addressed immediately.”
“Each additional day of incarceration further devastates lives, families and communities, and it’s outrageous that this is happening to people who haven’t even been given the opportunity to go before a judge,” said Syrita Steib-Martin of Operation Restoration. “The state’s total lack of transparency about this vital information is unacceptable. Louisianans deserve answers now.”
“We’re talking about human beings, sitting behind bars and separated from their families – but instead of getting an explanation, the Sheriff’s Association has provided nothing but excuses and misinformation,” said Jane Johnson, ACLU of Louisiana Interim Executive Director. “It’s clear that these numbers are simply not credible, and so we’re demanding that every parish in Louisiana come clean about how many people are being held and why.”
The Sheriff’s Association initially estimated that 1,300 people had been detained for more than four years before going before a judge. They later announced revised estimates, putting the number of people who had been held for a year or more without going to trial at 2,181. However, the group has refused to share a copy of the survey itself or any additional information on why or where people are being held.
Across the country, pretrial detention jails nearly half a million people at any given time. Controlling for all other factors, pretrial detention is the greatest predictor of a conviction. One study showed that the non-felony conviction rate jumps from 50% for people released pretrial to 92% for those jailed pretrial. For felony cases, the rate jumps from 59% to 85% when an accused person is jailed.
Studies also show that African Americans are subject to pretrial detention at a higher rate than white arrestees with similar charges and history.
The coalition, in partnership with other organizations, is currently engaged in criminal justice reform efforts in the Louisiana Legislature and are all members of a working group dedicated to redefining the way the state utilizes fine, fees, and costs related to parole and probation.
The public record request is the first step in the coalition’s fight to overhaul Louisiana’s pretrial detention system.