America's criminal justice system is 100% broken, and there's no greater evidence of this than the permanent detainment of US citizens being held indefinitely in county jails across the country. In Louisiana alone the number is in the hundreds, some who have been waiting on trails for years.
The Louisiana Sheriffs' Association says around 1,300 people have been in local jails for four years waiting for their trials, and 70 people have been held for five years without having their case heard, according to the group's informal survey.
"I think the number is actually higher," Michael Ranatza, executive director, said after a budget hearing before state lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday (April 9).
Last month, the sheriffs' association tallied up how many people were sitting in jails without going to trial or receiving a sentence, Ranatza said. The problem is so pervasive that it is eating into sheriffs' budgets to house the accused for so long, he said.
"I want you to understand that there are people in the state of Louisiana who have waited over five years to be tried in criminal court," Ranatza told the committee. "There's a higher number at the four-year level, about almost 1,200."
Jay Dixon, Louisiana's state public defender, said he was surprised the sheriffs' count of people waiting for years without a trial was that high. Public defenders have a system that automatically alerts them if nothing has happened in a case for six months.
Dixon said he didn't have an easy way of verifying the sheriffs' association numbers, explaining that the people counted aren't necessarily represented by public defenders. There could be a number of factors that force someone to sit in jail awaiting trial, including the ability to afford bail, he said.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused the right to a speedy trial. A defendant can file a motion for a speedy trial, which in Louisiana would have to commence within 120 days for someone held in custody charged with a felony -- or 30 days for a misdemeanor -- unless a judge determines a delay is justified.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is troubled by the long waits reported by the sheriffs, though they said people being held too long before trial is a widespread problem. "This is huge problem in Louisiana and it is a problem nationally," said Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney for the organization.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune has asked the sheriffs' association for a list of where these prisoners who have been in jails for over four years without a trial are located according to their survey. The association hasn't sent a response yet.
And let's remember the only reason this is even being mentioned is because county sheriffs don't have the money to detain people in county jails for years like this. They still have to clothe and feed these folks and it's eating up their budgets. State courts are flooded and the backlog is so bad people are getting lost in jails for four or five years now.
It's a massive violation of the Constitution, and it's happening in basically every state. And surprise, the victims of this are most often black and brown, and the least likely to be able to afford cash bail.
My guess is that this is happening to tens of thousands across the country, if not far more. Nobody will lift a finger to correct the problem, either.