Louisiana House votes to slightly reduce jail time for people arrested

House members ‘watered down’ original proposal to cut jail time

By: - May 4, 2021 7:45 pm

Orleans Parish Courthouse

The Louisiana House voted almost unanimously Tuesday to reduce the amount of time people who are arrested can sit in jail before they are charged with a misdemeanor crime. But House members backed off a more sweeping proposal to cut down on jail time for people who face a wider swath of crimes.

Under the current law, a person can be held in jail after an initial bail hearing with a judge for 45 days before they are charged with a misdemeanor offense, 60 days before they are charged with lower-level felonies and 120 days before they are charged with felonies that carry a punishment of life in prison or death.

The bill the House approved Tuesday would allow people to be held in jail for 30 days before they are charged with a misdemeanor offense and 60 days for a felony offense. It shortens the time period for pretrial detention, but not by as much as Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, desired.

James is the sponsor of the legislation and voted for the current version of House Bill 46 in the House, but expressed disappointment that the jail timelines weren’t cut further in the bill. James’ initial proposal reduced pretrial jail wait time to a maximum of five days for a misdemeanor and 30 days for all felonies — far lower than what the House approved.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association — who opposed James’ initial proposal — pushed for the version of the bill the House passed. Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, rewrote the legislation on behalf of the prosecutors.

The House vote was 101-1. Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, was the lone member who opposed to it. The Louisiana Senate will now take up the proposal.

District attorneys argued last month that Louisiana’s criminal justice system doesn’t work fast enough to allow people to be charged within a few days for any crime. They said speeding up the timelines significantly would require more judges, prosecutors and crime lab staff. James countered that law enforcement officials and attorneys could work faster if they wanted.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Louisiana had one of the highest pre-trial detention rates in the country, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. The state’s pretrial jail detention rate is more than three times the national average, according to the report.

Pretrial detention was also increasing in Louisiana before the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2015 to 2020, Louisiana’s pretrial incarceration rate jumped 10 percent, according to the ACLU’s research.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.