History of rapides parish jail louisiana


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Scott Mahaskey for Politico Magazine. A man in his 50s with a bald head and bulldoggish demeanor, Kelly is responsible each year for ensuring that the local government—run by a nine-member elected body called, in Louisiana tradition, a police jury—has enough money to sustain basic functions like paying government salaries, feeding inmates, and maintaining records and inventory for the ,person parish, nestled in the heart of Louisiana.


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In the parish seat of Alexandria, where abandoned storefronts compete with a grand hotel built by a lumber mogul, many downtown streets desperately needed paving. The main courthouse needed a new air conditioner, to replace one installed in the s. The county jail was overcrowded. The poverty rate in Rapides hovers around 20 percent—average for Louisiana, but above the national rate.

He was right. Diversion programs, which exist in almost every state in the country, are a popular criminal-justice reform, often used to keep people accused of nonviolent crimes out of jail, and to prevent their cases from clogging the courts.

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In general, district attorneys can decide whether to offer diversion. In Rapides Parish, the program came with a twist: The district attorney also got to keep the money from those diversion fees. Typically, the fees go into a general parish fund, just like fines levied in a courtroom. Not in Rapides. As his department got more money, the parish got less. Those rates were substantially higher than those of the previous district attorney, according to Kelly. But the DA made his position clear in a monthslong fight with the police jury.

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As his lawyer, Terrell hired Hugo Holland, a tough-on-crime prosecutor who loves the Confederacy, his hunting dogs and Lee Harvey Oswald. According to local news reports , Holland had threatened the police jury members with investigations into their own use of funds if they did not agree to drop their feud with Terrell. This lawsuit in central Louisiana might appear to be a local skirmish, but its trajectory tells a bigger story. But what becomes clear from the court documents in the Rapides Parish case and from interviews with people in the parish, as well as documentation about PTI programs that Louisiana district attorneys filed with the state Supreme Court, is that diversion comes with another, less-recognized risk: It can operate in a gray legal area that gives DAs a chance to siphon money from the budgets of often cash-strapped local governments.

The Rapides public defender, Deirdre Fuller, did not return requests for comment. Rapides is just one example of many in Louisiana in which elected DAs seem to have enriched their offices through PTI. But it is an important one: The dueling lawsuits between the parish jury and the DA have raised the question of how far DAs can go in using diversion and who has the authority to set stricter rules around it.

Over the past quarter-century, advocates, community leaders and elected officials on both sides of the political aisle have embraced pretrial diversion as a way to reduce the burden of the criminal justice system on both budgets and people. In jurisdictions where it is adopted, diversion allows people accused of generally nonviolent crimes like traffic violations, bounced checks and shoplifting to stay out of the court system and keep their records clean, instead agreeing to pay a fine, take a class or complete other requirements. Diversion has gradually become more common.

In , there were an estimated diversion programs in the United States.


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By , there were such programs in 45 states, according to the Center for Prison Reform, a lobbying group. And as of , according to the National Conference of State Legislators , 48 states and the District of Columbia offered some form of pretrial diversion. But there are no enforceable national standards for diversion, and programs can vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some are run by private, for-profit corporations ; others, by prosecutors and judges.

Some cater to drug offenders or veterans. Almost every diversion program requires a fee. But despite diversion success stories across the country, the programs have also been trailed by criticism that they open the door for abuse—especially when, as in Louisiana, the decisions about whether and how to charge individuals for crimes or offer diversion are left to the sole discretion of prosecutors.

Rapides Parish, Louisiana

As the practice has become more common, reports have found that the conditions of diversion—such as mandated attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or weekly drug testing—can be onerous and that failure to comply can be costly. The lawsuit alleges that Arnold's constitutional, civil and statutory rights were violated and seeks a jury trial for compensatory and punitive damages.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Sheriff William Earl Hilton and the sheriff's office, fired correctional officer Cody Darnell Richardson and "other unnamed officers and deputies. The lawsuit also states that Richardson was frustrated with Arnold because he allegedly interrupted the correction officer while he was trying to eat cereal.

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Richardson became hostile toward Arnold, it reads. Other officers stood by or walked away, it reads. Nobody tried to stop Richardson, who the lawsuit alleges tortured and mocked Arnold while threatening more violence. The lawsuit claims that reports about the incident were not made "in a timely manner," and that Arnold reported the incident through a Prison Rape Elimination Act hotline on March 21,

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