Speed Reads

Criminal injustice

Louisiana has jailed 1,300 people for 4 years without a trial

About 1,300 people have been held in local jails in Louisiana for at least four years without trial or conviction, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association reports. Another 70 have been held for five years or longer. These long pretrial detentions have become so common they are now a budget issue for some sheriff's offices, said the association's executive director, Michael Ranatza.

Causes for the detentions vary, but inability to afford bail is a leading factor, as it is elsewhere in the country. In New York City, for example, about 3,800 people — half the total jail population — are held in local lockup at any given moment because, though they are not deemed a risk to public safety, they do not have the money for bail.

"Cash bail insidiously exacerbates our criminal justice system's class and racial disparities by creating a cascade of devastating effects for poor people and their families who often lose jobs, homes, and even their children before a court even considers their guilt or innocence," argues California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), an advocate of bail reform.

The Sixth Amendment promises the right to a speedy trial in America, and in Louisiana that is held to mean 120 days for a felony charge and 30 days for a misdemeanor unless a judge approves an extension. "Obviously four years is a gross violation of [constitutional] rights," said Bruce Hamilton of the Louisiana ACLU. "This is huge problem in Louisiana and it is a problem nationally."