Speed Reads

Criminal injustice

This small Louisiana town is jailing people over a 'hunch' or 'feeling'

An investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found that Ville Platte, Louisiana, routinely holds people in jail without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In fact, the DOJ reports, local law enforcement often "use investigative holds where they lack sufficient evidence to make an arrest, but instead have a 'hunch' or 'feeling' that a person may be involved in criminal activity." One sheriff's officer described personally jailing people based solely on his possession of "a pretty good feeling" or "gut instinct."

These investigative holds last "for 72 hours and sometimes longer," and the individuals jailed are "strip-searched, placed in holding cells without beds, toilets, or showers, and denied communication with family members and loved ones." In one case cited in the report, a woman taken into custody was strip-searched, required to remove her tampon, and jailed overnight without access to sanitary products. She was not suspected of having any involvement in the robbery about which she was questioned.

All told, law enforcement in Ville Platte conducted about 900 arrests and holds between 2012 and 2014 alone — potentially affecting more than 10 percent of the town's 7,000 people — that were "not even ostensibly supported by probable cause." The DOJ report recommends a number of reforms to the local police and sheriff's offices to address these patterns and will continue to work with both departments to ensure changes are pursued.