40,000 ACTIVE WARRANTS MAKE BATON ROUGE LESS SAFE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Aug. 31, 2022
Jennifer Harding (510) 326-2418
Court Holden (504) 875-0475
David Utter (912) 944-5431
New Report Highlights Broken Criminal Legal System
Civil Rights Organizations Call for Immediate Removal of Unnecessary Arrest Warrants
BATON ROUGE, La. – East Baton Rouge has active arrest warrants 15 times the national average, and of the 40,000 outstanding warrants in the parish, less than two percent are for violent felonies, according to a new report published Wednesday by a group of civil rights organizations. To view the report go to https://www.fairfightinitiative.org/unwarranted.pdf.
The result, according to Unwarranted: How East Baton Rouge’s Warrant Practices Make Us Less Safe, is a system where law enforcement expends vital public safety resources to prey upon thousands of people in Baton Rouge – a majority of which have unresolved traffic violations – and place them in the deadly East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (jail), Baton Rouge’s pretrial detention facility.
“This system is broken,” said David Utter, the founder of Fair Fight Initiative, a not-for-profit civil rights legal advocacy organization. “Thousands of needless warrants must be removed from criminal databases, so people can live without fear of being sucked into a deadly system of mass incarceration, and so law enforcement can direct its resources to issues that actually make our communities safer.”
East Baton Rouge’s glut of outstanding warrants are not only concentrated in non-violent crimes and traffic violations – the warrants are also old, the report finds. 89 percent of warrants outstanding in the parish are older than one year; 38 percent are more than five years old; some date back to the 1970s.
“The warrant is the lifeblood of a criminal justice system that places more importance on locking people up than on protecting communities, said Amelia Herrera, and organizer in the Baton Rouge chapter of Voices of the Experienced (VOTE). “Locking people up on old, often petty crimes or traffic violations sets off a spiral in people’s lives and our communities, fosters distrust in law enforcement, and leads to poorer conditions for everyone in Baton Rouge.”
Arrests for these warrants also appear to be contributing to overpopulation of the jail, according to the report. In many cases, the warrants themselves involve violations like speeding and minor regulatory infractions that would not result in any jail time.
“Our leaders are discussing how to replace and even expand the jail but are not considering how we have overpopulated our jail,” said Utter. “Failure to take action will cost the people swept up by this system their jobs, their homes, and — too often – their lives, to say nothing of the massive, needless cost of mass incarceration to taxpayers.”
The report details the menace outstanding warrants have on people in Baton Rouge. Twelve percent of the adult population has a warrant, meaning roughly one in three households in the parish have someone who could face immediate arrest if they interact with law enforcement. This impending ruin has a chilling effect on law enforcement, both increasing tensions between police and their communities and reducing community involvement in solving more serious crimes.
The issue is even more profound on Black people in Baton Rouge. While the parish-wide warrant rate is 15 times the national average, it jumps to nearly 20 times the national average for Black people. Black adults in Baton Rouge are 2.4 times more likely than their white neighbors to have a warrant for their arrest.
Eugene Johnson, President of the NAACP’s Baton Rouge chapter, said “Anyone who walks into our jail, on any day, cannot help but notice the stark reality that race and racism play in our parish’s criminal legal system. Eliminating these old warrants is a small step toward racial justice and ending mass incarceration.”
The report also makes several key recommendations to remove the constant threat of arrest for thousands of people and improve public safety. They include vacating all non-felony warrants older than six months, reviewing warrants for violations or offenses that would not result in a jail sentence, and developing new policies to address traffic and other violations through non-arrestable civil citations instead of warrants.
Fair Fight researchers built a web-scraping tool that consolidated case-level data made public by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department, then analyzed the findings for publication.
Contact: David Utter, Executive Director
410 E Bay St. Suite 2
Savannah, GA 31401