Imagine being arrested. You haven’t been convicted of a crime, but you are told you have to pay bail to be released. If you don’t have enough money to pay the full bail amount, you could pay a bail bondsman, who will keep 10 percent of your bail fee as profit. Either way, if you cannot afford to purchase your freedom, you stay in jail.
But in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, it’s worse than that.
Here Judge Trudy White has for years been assigning people to a for-profit company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration, to supervise the conditions of a person’s release — for a price. RHI then charges people who post bail a $525 fee simply to be released. And it doesn’t stop there. You then have to pay the company a monthly $225 “supervision” fee while awaiting trial. If you don’t, they will threaten to send you back to jail.
In 2015 and 2016, more than 300 people were assigned to Rehabilitation Home Incarceration for pretrial supervision by Judge White. She often made these orders for indefinite periods of time without determining whether people were a flight risk or posed any danger to the public. She also did not assess their ability to pay the company’s signup fee of $525 and its subsequent monthly fees and other charges.
This is extortion, plain and simple.
People should not be held for ransom by the justice system, especially for private profit. All arrestees, no matter their income, are presumed innocent. They deserve their freedom and their day in court, two of the most basic rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. But RHI and East Baton Rouge Parish officials have exploited more than three hundred people for thousands of dollars each.
Our justice system is not supposed to work this way. That is why the ACLU, the ACLU of Louisiana, and the Southern Poverty Law Center are suing to put an end to this scam.
One plaintiff in the lawsuit, Kaiasha White — no relation to Judge White — was forced to languish in jail for a month as she and her family struggled to pay both her bond and the RHI signup fee. The jail would not release her without notice from the company that its fee had been paid.
"This practice needs to stop,” said White. “When you have to go to court, you shouldn’t have to worry about being held for ransom because a business wants to profit off of you.”
Henry Ayo, another plaintiff, was in jail for two months because he and his wife couldn’t afford to pay his bond and the signup fee. After paying and being released, Ayo was informed by a company representative that he had to pay $225 a month while awaiting trial — or he could be arrested and jailed again. Ayo and his wife paid the company a total of $1,000. As with many of the people RHI extorted, he didn’t receive “supervision services” beyond being required to make phone calls that often went unanswered.
The lawsuit accuses RHI’s executive director, Cleve Dunn Sr., of operating an illegal racket under Louisiana and federal law with Warden Dennis Grimes of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III, who oversees the jail. It also accuses RHI and East Baton Rouge Parish of violating the Fourth and 14th Amendment rights of individuals subjected to this scheme and raises additional state law claims challenging RHI’s exploitative practices.
The people of Baton Rouge should not be forced to support private companies in order to secure their release from jail. It is the essence of corruption. And it must end.