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ACLU Lawsuit Alleges 'Court-Approved Shakedown' in Louisiana

The involvement of private enterprise in the criminal justice system has expanded beyond private prisons to include parole and probation monitoring and rehabilitation services. But one Louisiana judge and private, pretrial supervision company have taken things too far, according to an ACLU lawsuit, charging arrestees an additional fee on top of their posted bail in order to be released from jail.

The suit alleges that Judge Trudy White has forced individuals arrested and held at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to pay Rehabilitation Home Incarceration an extra $525 to secure their release, a process ACLU attorney Brandon Buskey calls "a court-approved shakedown."

You Shall Not Be Released

According to the lawsuit, many of the release conditions aren't set by Judge White, but by Rehabilitation Home Incarceration:

"RHI demands an initial fee of $525.
Arrestees typically only learn they must pay this initial fee to be released when
they or their family members attempt to post bail or when they first meet with RHI at the Prison.
Arrestees who cannot immediately pay the initial RHI fee may wait in jail for
days or weeks until they can pay all or some portion of the initial fee."

But RHI's involvement doesn't end upon release. Once out of jail, RHI's supervision may or may not have an end date, and may include monthly fees for ankle monitors (that allegedly some individuals never receive) or mandatory classes run by RHI employees (that individuals don't often know exist). If a person is unable to pay, they are threatened by RHI officials or East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's officers with re-incarceration.

Prison Quid Pro Quo

While the outsourcing of pre-trial, probation, and parole supervision to private companies has become commonplace, one aspect of the East Baton Rouge scheme seems unique -- the connection between RHI and Judge White. RHI, which is owned and operated by the Dunn family, had a central role in Judge White's 2014 re-election campaign, according to the lawsuit: "Cleve Dunn Jr. served as Chairperson of Judge White's Campaign Committee; White's campaign paid Cleve Dunn, Sr. for marketing; and RHI paid Frederick Hall, a former RHI employee, and his wife, Gloria Hall, who owns and operates the bond company to which RHI routinely refers putative supervisees, for campaign support activities." Since then, RHI has been "the only approved vendor for pre-trial supervision on Judge White's website," and the "provision of services to Judge White is based on an informal arrangement between RHI and Judge White."

The ACLU is alleging violations of the RICO Act and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment, and is asking for the suit to be certified as a class action to cover all released individuals assigned RHI fees and monitoring.

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