National Civil Rights Groups Announce Settlement Of Lawsuit Concerning Baton Rouge’s Bail System
Settlement of lawsuit aims to reform Baton Rouge’s bail system
BATON ROUGE, LA – Today, Chief Judge Shelly Dick will hear reactions to a proposed settlement from members of the Plaintiff Class in Ryan v. Smith, a lawsuit challenging wealth-based detention in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. The lawsuit was filed in December 2020 on behalf of four individuals who were being held inside the jail and were unable to afford their bail. A settlement was reached earlier this year with the Judges for the 19th Judicial District Court.
Plaintiffs praised the settlement, noting that the judges came to the settlement table early, avoiding unnecessary litigation and beginning a process that will ensure people detained in the jail are considered for release on a fair basis. This process will take into account people’s ability to pay bail while also considering non-financial alternatives.
The major elements of the settlement include:
- Court representatives meet with newly detained people to gather information about income, expenses, and other issues that affect the ability to pay bail.
- The information must be provided to the judge or commissioner, who makes an initial determination of conditions of release and who determines whether detained people qualify to be represented by the Public Defender.
- Lawyers representing the newly detained people will have access to all of the documents and information that the Court uses to decide conditions of release.
- For people who are not released, the Court will hold a hearing within 48 hours of an individual’s arrest. At the hearing, the judge or commissioner will:
–Ensure people are represented by a lawyer;
–Provide options to detained people on whether to meet with counsel during the hearing, proceed with the hearing, or continue until the next callout hearing;
–Allow attorneys to present evidence and argument about conditions for release, such as why a bail amount should be lower;
–Consider previously collected financial information or other financial information presented in court.
The Court must state its reasons for the conditions of release it orders, including any amount of money bail. For those who remain in jail after their initial bail hearing, the Judge or Commissioner for their case will use these same procedures to reconsider their bail in the future reconsidered.
“This is an important step toward downsizing the Baton Rouge jail,” said David Utter, a lawyer with the Fair Fight Initiative. “Too many people have died as a result of spending time there, and making sure bonds are affordable and proving non-financial terms of release for people will save lives.”
“We’re proud of the class representatives in this case, who had the courage to stand up and challenge the status quo,” said Eric Foley, a lawyer with the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. “Because of their hard work and sacrifice, many others will benefit from the changes to bond-setting practices and procedures in the 19th JDC. We also recognize the Judges of the 19th JDC’s work in committing to this settlement process and implementing the agreement it produced. We look forward to working together with the judges and other stakeholders in the system to implement this agreement.”
Cash bail systems like this one lock individuals and families into a cycle of poverty and debt—particularly Black and Brown people, who are already disproportionately targeted by the criminal legal system and often lack economic resources as a result. That’s why Advancement Project National Office, MacArthur Justice Center, and Fair Fight Initiative are fighting for an end to the unconscionable, unconstitutional practice of wealth-based incarceration in Louisiana and nationwide.
“No one should be locked up for months at a time without being convicted of a crime, simply because they cannot afford to pay a high bond,” noted Miriam Nemeth, Deputy Director and Senior Attorney for the Justice Project at Advancement Project National Office. “People of color and poor people are more likely to be impacted by this practice, which allows the wealthy to buy their freedom while everyone else remains locked up. It is long past time to change this system. This settlement will bring people home to the safety and support of their loved ones while they fight their charges.”
Fair Fight Initiative is a not-for-profit civil rights legal advocacy organization based in the Deep South. Through litigation and community advocacy, Fair Fight Initiative exposes mistreatment in the law enforcement system and works to end mass incarceration. Visit www.fairfightinitiative.org/
The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a national, nonprofit civil rights law firm dedicated to fighting injustice and achieving systemic reform of the criminal legal system. MJC’s Louisiana office litigates to defend civil rights and dismantle white supremacy in the South. Visit www.macarthurjustice.org.
Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. Visit www.advancementproject.org/home