BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Baton Rouge has 40,000 active arrest warrants, according to a recent study published by a group of civil rights organizations. On Wednesday, the groups spoke out to say that many warrants make the community unsafe.
“This system is broken,” said the Founder of Fair Fight Initiative, a not-for-profit civil rights legal advocacy organization, David Utter. “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.”
Baton Rouge has 15 times the national average of warrants according to Unwarranted: How East Baton Rouge’s Warrant Practices Make Us Less Safe, a study published by The Fair Fight Invitation, NAACP of EBR, Voices of the Experienced (VOTE), Southern University, and PJI.
“If Baton Rouge eliminated every warrant that is older than six months, we would still be higher than the national average,” Utter said.
“One out of three households in Baton Rouge have an active warrant is atrocious, and if we don’t work to change that then we don’t want to work to change mass incarceration,” said Baton Rouge NAACP President Eugene Collins Jr.
The groups said the majority of the warrants are for low-level crimes like traffic violations. 89 percent are older than one year and some date back to the seventies.
“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, an organizer in the Baton Rouge Chapter of 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.”
“So many are outdated, totally old,” said Executive Director of Fair Fight Initiative Linda Franks.
Franks said her son was arrested on a low-level warrant in 2015.
“He was detained in the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail, and four days later he was dead,” Franks said. “And if we had this process in my place when my son was pulled over he would still be alive today.”
The groups said these active warrants could contribute to overpopulation in jails and ultimately cost the taxpayer.
“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 illustrates how these active warrants have a larger impact 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,” according to the press release.
Advocates said the solution includes vacating non-felony warrants older than six months, all non-violent felony warrants older than a year, and warrants that would not result in a jail sentence. They are also asking for new policies to be developed to address traffic and other violations that would not lead to an arrest.
“What we want to do is to get rid of the stuff that shouldn’t be a concern, that isn’t a public safety risk, and have police focus on the stuff that matters to make our community really safer,” said Utter.