BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A new team of Baton Rouge public defenders is working to keep people out of jail who are stuck there simply because they cannot afford to post bail.
The mayor’s office expanded an existing unit with federal grant money at the start of the year. The team, headed by Lacie Dauzat, added a client advocate and social worker who can build relationships with offenders immediately after they are arrested and keep up with them throughout their legal process.
The unit works primarily with young, non-violent offenders. The new social worker and client advocate are responsible for creating a rehabilitation plan and submitting it to the judge, who could reduce the bail or waive it completely.
“I don’t think it’s fair to keep someone incarcerated simply because they don’t have the money to bond out,” Dauzat said. “As a whole, I just want to see our community and the family units of our clients healed.”
The goal, Dauzat said, is to replace monetary bails with options like mental health treatment, work training, and schooling. Right now, a person who is arrested can sit in jail for up to two months before their trial.
“If someone has an underlying mental health, substance abuse, or homelessness issue, that may be the driving factor behind why they keep coming to jail,” deputy chief defender Lindsay Blouin. “We’re able to get in and address that earlier rather than that person just sitting in jail.”
Team members say spending time in parish prison is like hitting a reset button in life.
“Those people are in a downward spiral,” Dauzat said. “They’re losing their jobs, their homes, and their family lives are disrupted. It’s a nasty cycle.”