National Civil Rights Groups Sue Louisiana Judges, Sheriff Over Unconstitutional Bail System - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

National Civil Rights Groups Sue Louisiana Judges, Sheriff Over Unconstitutional Bail System

Lawsuit aims to end Baton Rouge’s cash bail system after another person dies awaiting trial at local jail

BATON ROUGE, LA – Last night, Fair Fight Initiative, MacArthur Justice Center and Advancement Project National Office sued East Baton Rouge officials in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, seeking to end the immoral and unconstitutional practice of wealth-based incarceration in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individuals who are being held inside of EBRPP and are unable to afford their bail.


More than 1,400 people are currently incarcerated in EBRPP—approximately over 80% of whom are being held without a conviction. The lawsuit alleges that, by setting and strictly enforcing financial conditions for release without taking into account people’s ability to pay or considering non-financial alternatives, East Baton Rouge officials are effectively incarcerating hundreds of Louisianans for being too poor to pay for their freedom—a violation of their equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

“For the past five years, I’ve been litigating on behalf of families who lost loved ones to this jail,” said David Utter, Executive Director of the Fair Fight Initiative. “What we’ve learned is that any amount of time in EBRPP is dangerous and far too often deadly.  The notion that people merely accused of a crime can be held in EBRPP simply because they cannot afford cash bail should outrage us all.”

The lawsuit follows the Dec. 6 death of Marcus Morris, a 61-year old who was reportedly being held on a $5,800 bond for alleged misdemeanor offenses. Morris is the 44th person to have died in the jail since 2012—an alarming rate of death that is more than twice the national average. Local advocates from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition have pointed to Mr. Morris’s death as yet another catastrophic failure by CorrectHealth, the jail’s current health care provider. The Coalition is urging the city to terminate CorrectHealth’s contract, which is currently up for review.

“When people are arrested they are presumed innocent,” said Eric Foley, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center Louisiana. “They should not be locked up awaiting trial unless there is a very compelling public safety reason to hold them in jail. And yet, in East Baton Rouge, many people are currently incarcerated simply because they cannot pay for their freedom. Judges in the 19th JDC set money bond without appropriate consideration of an individual’s circumstances, like whether a person can afford it, whether that person is a flight risk or presents a danger to others, or if there are better options for release that aren’t conditioned on payment. As in other bail suits we’ve filed in Louisiana and elsewhere, we’re honored to represent plaintiffs who seek to vindicate the bedrock principle that low-income people have the same right to pretrial liberty as wealthy people.”

The sworn testimony of the four plaintiffs—Joshua Ryan, Blaze Franklin, Amisar Cyrus Nourani and Herbert Scully—reveals the callous indifference of the city/parish’s criminal legal system. In each case, Baton Rouge officials failed to consider the plaintiffs’ individual circumstances before setting and enforcing unaffordable cash bonds, subjecting them to brutal and dangerous circumstances inside of EBRPP because they could not afford to post bail: Amisar Cyrus Nourani, a Sufi Muslim, has been the target of physical and sexual violence as well as racist attacks based on his religious beliefs; Blaze Franklin, who is currently battling stage IV prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones, has been provided with no treatments for his advanced diagnosis; and Herbert Scully, who is suffering from disabling injuries, and Joshua Ryan, who has an illness that compromises his immune system, have reported that the jail is failing to take basic precautions to protect inmates from COVID-19 exposure.

Earlier this year, EBRPP officials were sued by Advancement Project National Office and its partners over their failure to take basic and necessary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the jail. The lawsuit alleged that officials were subjecting pretrial detainees to a significant and unnecessary risk of injury and death; declarations included in the lawsuit suggest that, at the height of the pandemic, jail officials continue to endanger incarcerated people by eschewing basic public health best practices, including mask wearing, maintaining social distance, and facilitating access to working personal hygiene facilities such as toilets and showers.

“Let’s be clear: criminalizing poverty through cash bail is a choice. Every day, Baton Rouge officials choose not to exercise discretion and provide non-financial conditions for release; instead, they choose to incarcerate and endanger members of the community for being unable to afford their freedom,” said Tiffany Yang, Staff Attorney at the Advancement Project National Office. “For dozens of people like Marcus Morris, being accused of a crime in East Baton Rouge was effectively a death sentence.”

Cash bail systems like East Baton Rouge’s 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.


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.

The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center is a national, nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting civil rights and fighting injustice in the criminal legal system through litigation at the trial, appellate, and Supreme Court levels. Founded in 1985, and now with offices in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington D.C, the MacArthur Justice Center works to protect the rights of the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable in the criminal justice system, combat racial discrimination, stop the punishment of poverty, fight unjust prosecutions and police misconduct, and vindicate the rights of people who are imprisoned and detained. Visit

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


Racial Justice Organization Advancement Project Responds to President Biden’s State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON, DC – In reaction to the State of the Union, Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization, issued this statement: “Tonight’s State of the Union, held just weeks after the killing of Tyre Nichols, did little to address the core problems inherent in policing.  “While President Biden acknowledged the pain and grief of families like the parents of Tyre Nichols, his administration’s efforts to put more money and resources into policing will only result in more murders of Black people by the hands of police.

Read More
Advancement Project Responds to Reports Of Memphis Police Officers Charged Over Tyre Nichols Killing

Leading Racial Justice Organization Calls for World Where Black People Are Free WASHINGTON, DC —  In response to reports that five former Memphis police officers are charged with the murder and kidnapping of Tyre Nichols, Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project released this statement: “Today, three weeks after Tyre Nichols’ brutal killing, it was announced that five former Memphis police officers were indicted on charges including murder and kidnapping. While it is rare to see cops face any accountability for their actions, this is hardly a victory. Nothing can bring…

Read More
We Cannot Keep Doing Business As Usual: Response to Biden’s “Safer America Plan”

Civil Rights Organization on President Biden’s “Safer America Plan” Says Increase of Police Officers in Communities Will Not Only Fail to Improve Public Safety, But Also Lead to More Harm to Communities of Color Washington, DC – In response to the “Safer America Plan” announced by President Joe Biden on Tuesday in Philadelphia, Liyah Brown, program director for the Justice Project at Advancement Project National Office, issued this statement:  “President Biden’s call for an increase of police officers in our communities will not only fail to improve…

Read More
Leading Civil Rights Group on Reports Federal Officials Have Charged Four Current and Former Police Officers in the Killing of Breonna Taylor

Statement from Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project – National Office, a leading civil rights organization, on reports that federal officials have charged four current and former police officers involved in the fatal raid that killed Breonna Taylor, of several crimes, including lying to obtain a warrant that was used to search her home:  “Today, by moving forward with criminal charges against the four police officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor as she slept in her bed, federal officials are recognizing what we have all known for years: Breonna Taylor should be alive…

Read More
Invest in People, Not Police

July 22, 2022 Contact: Yasmeen Ramahi, [email protected] “Invest in People, Not Police” Advancement Project National Office Response to Joe Biden’s “Safer America Plan” Washington, DC – In response to the “Safer America Plan” introduced by President Joe Biden on Thursday, Liyah Brown, program director for the Justice Project at Advancement Project National Office, issued this statement:  “President Biden’s call for an increase of 100,000 police officers in our communities will not only fail to improve public safety, but will…

Read More
Civil Rights Org Advancement Project National Office Responds to Biden’s Policing Order

NATIONAL – Today, on the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and the subsequent uprisings across the country calling for an overhaul of police and policing, President Biden signed an Executive Order that aims to cut down on police abuse and misconduct. In response, Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of the national civil rights group Advancement Project National Office, wrote this statement: “On the anniversary of the day when George Floyd was killed by state-sanctioned police violence, we are glad to see President Biden creating an initiative that aims to curtail police abuse…

Read More
“Rest Easy, Baba”—Advancement Project Remembers Bob Moses

Yesterday, civil rights champion Bob Moses, a civil rights leader and crusader for social justice and education, passed away at the age of 86. 

Read More
Advancement Project Calls on America to Move Beyond Police and Prisons: “We Can’t Reform This System”

A year after George Floyd’s murder, Advancement Project National Office reflects on how to build a #FreeandSafe society for all people of color.

Read More
The Best Mother’s Day Gift is Freedom

By Ashley Carter, Justice Project Program Deputy Director and Senior Staff Attorney Photo credit: Cyndi Elledge // Photos are a part of the #FreeBlackWomxn series. Visit Thousands of women with children across the United States will spend this Mother’s Day behind bars. The crisis of mass incarceration has fueled a family separation endemic: more than 150,000 children have a parent who is in jail simply because they are too poor to afford their court-imposed cash bail. This year we are working to support the 2021 Black Mama’s Day Bailout organized and led by our community partners…

Read More
Black Mama Bailout: #FreeBlackWomxn

Michigan Liberation and the Advancement Project National Office have launched the #FreeBlackWomxn campaign, a photo and storytelling project that elevates the voices of Black Michigan mothers who have experienced incarceration. We are honored that Kimberly, Machelle, Geneva, Darnita, Dominica, Irene, and Tamika shared their stories with us. Click each woman’s photo below to read their experience with incarceration. In Spring 2019, Michigan…

Read More