BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - District Attorney Hillar Moore blames Baton Rouge's high summer murder rate on the lack of a misdemeanor jail.
"I'm pretty disappointed that we were not able to have this misdemeanor jail open earlier in the year. I think it had the potential of saving many lives. That's water under the bridge now," said Moore.
Moore is referring to Wednesday night's Metro Council meeting where the vote failed for a two-week misdemeanor jail sometime in November.
He said in 2011 the council unanimously voted in favor of a misdemeanor jail. Now, after going through the legislation and pulling $50 from every outstanding bench warrant fee, they have saved up $500,000 over the past year and a half.
Moore said the goal was to spend $100,000 of that to open a two-week jail later this year. But, five council members, including C. Denise Marcelle, voted against the idea Wednesday night. Moore said that sends the wrong message.
"I have 160,000 outstanding warrants, and we want people to voluntarily comply. It's not going to happen without the possibility that someone could go to jail for multiple offenses. So yes, I think it absolutely sends a terrible message that you don't have to be accountable for your actions," said Moore.
"I'm not for people not taking care of their business, but I think we need to try other innovative ways in which to try to get them to come in and take care of it without locking them up," said Marcelle.
Marcelle said the misdemeanor jail targets blacks and the poor, saying it's difficult for people to pay a fine and then try to pay rent. However, Moore said the courts are willing to work with people who can't make ends meet.
"These are people who just did not come to court and refuse to obey a court order. That's what this is. This is not someone who just cannot pay," said Moore.
Moore said the past two times they have opened the misdemeanor jail, some 300 people were locked up, but more than 5,000 came to pay their fine voluntarily so they didn't end up behind bars. In fact, Moore said in a study compiled by LSU's criminologist Ed Shihahdeh, after the jail opens for two weeks, there's a 25 to 37 percent d rop in violent crimes in the months that follow.
Since June, Moore said there have been about 40 murders in Baton Rouge. Moore said that number may not have been that high if they would have had a misdemeanor jail because there's the fear of getting locked up.
"There's that potential risk for someone that you may go to jail for doing something you would normally receive a summons," said Moore.
Marcelle wants to push for an amnesty program instead of a jail and said she plans to introduce that at a future council meeting.