The Louisiana Legislature voted Tuesday to reduce the number of days people can be held in jail without being charged with a misdemeanor from 45 days to 30 days. Civil rights advocates had hoped for a much more sweeping change to Louisiana’s pre-detention protocol.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has to sign the legislation before it can become law. If approved, the 30-day time frame would take effect in 2022.
An earlier version of House Bill 46, sponsored by Rep. Ted James, had reduced the number of days people who are arrested can be held without being charged for felony offenses as well, but that portion of the proposal was killed.
In Louisiana, law enforcement officials will continue to get 60 days to hold people 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.
Louisiana had one of the highest pre-trial detention rates of any state in 2020, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. About .5 percent of Louisiana residents ages 15 to 64 were in jail awaiting trial last year, according to the advocacy organization. The state’s pretrial jail detention rate was more than three times the national average before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporters of shorter pre-trial detention times frames said there are financial consequences for people who spend a long time in jail after being arrested. The current laws set up a situation where people who are never charged with a crime could lose their jobs or homes because they have to spend so much time in jail before they are released.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association opposed reducing the pre-trial detention time periods for felonies, saying that Louisiana’s criminal justice system isn’t well-funded enough to work faster.