Officials consider re-opening jail for misdemeanor offenders

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The district attorney said the last time the Baton Rouge misdemeanor jail was opened people flooded the city courthouse to pay fines to avoid spending time behind its bars and there are talks of re-opening the cells.

DA Hillar Moore said while re-opening the jail would help to clear up some 100,000 outstanding warrants and fines in East Baton Rouge Parish, the biggest thing it would do is reduce crime and help increase respect of the law.

"We believe that opening up this misdemeanor jail is going to fit in with the broken windows approach," Moore said. "That is, take care of the small things and they won't escalate to big things. Right now, people are ignoring the misdemeanor summonses that are given to them."

Moore said re-opening the jail would require approval from Mayor Kip Holden and the East Baton Rouge Metro Council. The council would then have to decide where to get the $1.52 million it would take to operate it for one year. However, Moore added it would be money well spent.

"It's not about making money or breaking even, it's about having the law enforced, having the law respected and reducing crime," Moore explained. "We believe that $1.5 (million) or $2 million is a small about of money to pay for the benefit that we're going to receive."

The jail last housed people for a two-week period in 2012. According to reports, the crime rate fell drastically and lots of people with outstanding fines and warrants showed up to get those taken care before being put behind bars. Moore said close to 6,000 people handled their infractions to avoid jail time. He said opening the jail again would help re-establish a hold on the parish's outstanding fines and warrants from the past year.

He added it would also help law enforcement get an updated paper trail on repeat misdemeanor offenders who've not been fingerprinted or photographed in the past.

"On cases that we just don't know that someone's been charged, maybe 10 or 20 times with a certain offense, eventually they'll be arrested for a felony, they're fingerprinted and it may look on paper that's their first offense and it's really their twentieth," Moore said.

Moore added the jail is only approved to hold people for 48 hours at a time, but he also said 80 percent of people bond out within the first 36 hours.

The constable's office currently operates a jail at the city court. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If someone is picked up after business hours, there's no place to send misdemeanor offenders.

Copyright 2014 WAFB. All rights reserved.