NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - A lawsuit filed Monday night claims people awaiting trial before a Baton Rouge judge were forced to pay hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of dollars in fees to a private company before they were released from jail, even after paying their bail.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Louisiana filed the suit to end a "racketeering scheme" targeting pretrial detainees, according to a news release.
SPLC states people were threatened with getting arrested again if they didn't pay additional monthly fees to Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI), a company that monitors people awaiting trial. The company, its owner, Cleve Dunn Sr., and East Baton Rouge Parish are named in the suit.
According to SPLC, more than 300 people in 2015 and 2016 were assigned to RHI for supervision by Judge Trudy White before their trials. The law center claims White ordered people to be monitored by RHI for indefinite periods of time or assess their ability to pay RHI's signup fee, monthly fees, or other charges.
"This is a disturbing example of our justice system being twisted beyond recognition by a scheme to make money," said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director, in a written release. "People who had already paid their bail were held ransom and extorted out of hundreds and thousands of dollars. They simply wanted their freedom while they awaited their day in court. That desire was exploited by Rehabilitation Home Incarceration."
According to the release, the signup fee for the company is $525. One plaintiff in the suit claims he was in jail for two months because he couldn't pay his bond and the signup fee.
The news release from the SPLC states that after he paid and was released, he was allegedly told by an RHI representative that he had to pay $225 a month while awaiting trial or he could be arrested again and thrown back in jail.
The release added this particular plaintiff paid RHI about $1,000 and "didn't receive supervision services beyond being required to make phone calls that often went unanswered."