BATON ROUGE, La. — A civil rights organization's two-year analysis of thousands of jail records shows Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of people held behind bars before they are tried for a crime, according to a report released Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana report says more than 15,000 people are jailed pre-trial in Louisiana on any given day and it states that for every 100,000 Louisiana residents ages 15 to 64, there are 502 people jailed while awaiting trial.
The report also notes racial disparities. “Black Louisianans are more than twice as likely to be jailed following arrest than white Louisianans,” it said.
The organization is calling for multiple reforms to reduce the pre-trial lockup rate, including bail reform.
“Excessive bail is at the root of pretrial injustice,” the report says, stating that the median bail for those jailed in the low-income state is $24,000.
The report comes nearly three years after Louisiana adopted reforms, including earlier release of some non-violent offenders, that dropped its population of convicts held by the state and, for a time, reduced the state's incarceration rate from the highest in the nation.
“These findings are a wake-up call that even as Louisiana has worked to reduce its prison population, a devastating epidemic of pretrial incarceration has risen up in its wake,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director, said in a news release accompanying Friday's report.
The ACLU said state Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, has introduced a bill to set the maximum time between an arrest and filing of a charge in misdemeanor and most felony charges at five days. Failure to file a charge would result in the suspect's release. Another James bill would require parish jails to collect standard data on their pretrial jail populations and submit quarterly reports.
Two criminal justice organizations whose members play a role in the jailing of suspects, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and the Louisiana Sheriff's Association did not immediately respond to queries seeking comment Friday morning.