BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In an effort to clear the more than 100,000 outstanding misdemeanor warrants currently clogging the court system, Baton Rouge officials to turn the city's jail into a temporary 24-hour misdemeanor jail using money set aside by law for that purpose.
The proposal went before the East Baton Rouge Metro Council Wednesday.
"It's not about getting people who have traffic tickets and just put them in jail. This is about multiple offenders having multiple times to come to court and just refuse to come to court," said District Attorney Hillar Moore.
The misdemeanor jail is a system the city has used in the past as motivation for offenders to make their court appearance and clear up outstanding warrants. Offenders are brought in either voluntarily or through a round-up.
City officials say the system also keeps the lower level offenders separate from the larger prison population. Right now, the city jail is only open during normal business hours. If a misdemeanor occurs after hours, the person charged is sent to parish prison.
"It gets them out of the system much quicker," said Councilman Trae Welch.
The proposal, supported just three years ago, sparked a fierce debate over incarceration rates, race and poverty. Opponents called the misdemeanor jail a debtor's prison, disproportionately affecting black residents.
"Being poor should not be a crime. Being imprisoned for drinking in public, noise ordinances, driving with inspection sticker that's either expired or not visible, those are not good reason to imprison someone," said lawyer Ada Goodly.
Supporters said the system is about accountability and facing consequences of breaking the law. Moore pointed to an LSU criminology study that showed crime rates d ropped around the time previous misdemeanor jails were open.
Ultimately, the proposal failed, only gaining support from council members Trae Welch, Joel Boe, Buddy Amoroso and Scott Wilson.