(The Center Square) – Jailing people who have not been convicted of a crime costs Louisiana taxpayers almost $290 million annually, according to a report made public Friday.
For every 100,000 Louisianans ages 15-64, 502 people are in jail pretrial, a 10.3 percent increase since 2015, the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says.
The ACLU says Louisiana’s pretrial incarceration rate is more than three times the national average and the highest rate of any state on record since 1970.
The people represented in the study’s sample spent an average of five-and-a-half months behind bars without trial. Drug possession was the most common charge, and 57 percent had been accused of nonviolent offenses, the report says.
The study also found large racial disparities regarding who gets locked up before a trial. Black Louisianans were more than twice as likely to be jailed following arrest than white residents, and black people in the study’s sample had spent 36 percent more time in jail.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. The report suggests the state’s “ballooning jail population is driven in part by the excessive periods of time that people are held while their cases are pending.”
The median bail for a person held pretrial in Louisiana is $24,000, the costs of which often are borne by the defendant’s family members, especially women.
“If people cannot pay bail, they stay in jail, not because they are guilty, but because they are poor,” the report says. “Even if charges are eventually dropped, jail time can mean a lost job, lost income, eviction, loss of relationships, and even loss of child custody.”
The report includes 23 policy recommendations for state and local governments to consider. Those include changes to the state’s Code of Criminal Procedure to eliminate “one-size-fits-all” bail schedules, strengthening protections against “unaffordable bail and unwarranted pretrial incarceration,” and eliminating “blanket prohibitions on judges releasing certain persons on personal recognizance or unsecured bail.”