Louisiana Has Kept 1,300 People Behind Bars For 4 Years Without Trial

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It remains unclear — even to the state's public defender — why over 1,000 people languish in Louisiana jails. But one cause may be inability to pay bail.

Around 1,300 people have been sitting in Louisiana jails for at least four years, the Louisiana Sheriff's Association reported

An additional 70 have been held for five years or longer. 

This is according to an informal survey conducted by the group and shared after a budget hearing before state lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, the Times-Picayune reported

"I want you to understand that there are people in the state of Louisiana who have waited over five years to be tried in criminal court," Sheriff's Association executive director Michael Ranatza told the committee. "There's a higher number at the four-year level, about almost 1,200." 

Louisiana's state public defender Jay Dixon told the Times-Picayune that he was surprised by the numbers because public defenders have a system that automatically notifies them if a case hasn't moved forward for six months. 

He said the people counted by the Sheriff's Association can't be easily verified, and many may not be necessarily represented by public defenders. 

 

Dixon also acknowledged that many factors determine why a person would be held in jail without trial, including the inability to pay bail. 

The system of pretrial bail, wherein defendants end up being held simply because they cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars that judges set for bail, is part of a larger national problem. An estimated 400,000 Americans are held without trial each day, technically innocent under the law, but in practice deprived of their freedom — all because their families don't have the cash to bail them out. 

Bail troubles are also significantly correlated with race. Broadly speaking, African-American men are over two times more likely to be arrested than white men, and Hispanic men are two and a half times more likely, making both groups subject to more bail sentencing. Additionally, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute, African-American men receive 35 percent higher bail amounts than white men, and Hispanic men receive 19 percent higher bail. 

Whatever the cause of Louisiana's inordinately high amount of jailed defendants awaiting trial, it's about guaranteed that minorities and the poor are feeling the brunt of it. The state would do well to investigate the core causes of its problem and rethink its pretrial bail system. 

Banner image credit: Pixabay, TryJimmy

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