A surge of people traveled to Baton Rouge City Court on Friday to resolve outstanding warrants before the Baton Rouge City Jail opened a trial period of 24-hour operation for misdemeanor arrests.
City Court usually sees about 700 patrons on Fridays, but handled 2,071 cases — nearly triple the normal amount — through 4:30 p.m. Friday, said Lon Norris, City Court administrator.
“When I arrived here this morning, the line was all the way out to the curb on St. Louis Street,” Norris said. “Since then, there’s been a steady influx of the public to address their warrants.”
City Court also had an influx of callers Friday trying to handle outstanding warrants, Norris said.
“Between our office and the Constable’s Office, it’s probably doubled at least,” Norris said.
The two-week trial period began Friday afternoon. Law enforcement officials say it will help relieve East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and ease congestion in the criminal system created by outstanding misdemeanor warrants.
City Jail is usually open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office has received double its usual amount of calls concerning outstanding warrants since Wednesday’s announcement, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
The Traffic Department of the 19th Judicial District Court also saw a surge of people trying to pay outstanding traffic tickets, Hicks said.
“I think with the opening of the City Jail and the media attention that it’s gathered prior to it opening, I think it’s done a lot to people coming in and getting their warrants cleared out, which is what we wanted,” Hicks said.
During this trial period, almost all misdemeanor offenders will be taken to City Jail.
The exceptions are people booked for driving while intoxicated, pregnant women, people with special medical needs, violent offenders, people with criminal district bench warrants, juveniles and disruptive inmates.
The Sheriff’s Office is providing deputies to help keep the jail open 24 hours a day. The Constable’s Office runs the jail.
If prisoners do not pay fines or bond out of City Jail within 36 hours, they will be taken to Parish Prison.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s deputies traveled across the parish Friday to serve outstanding warrants and escort people to City Jail.
East Baton Rouge Parish had 166,236 outstanding warrants before Friday, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.
The top 20 people with the most outstanding warrants combined for 505 warrants, City Constable Maj. Reginald Brown said. He said the top offender had 34.
Most people that went through City Court during the day Friday paid their fines or bonded out, Brown said.
He said the largest amount of people City Jail held during the day Friday was 20, but he expected that number to grow through the night.
Baton Rouge police officers did not actively try to serve outstanding warrants, but officers will check people they come in contact with for outstanding warrants, police spokesman Sgt. Donald Stone said.
“Now that the jail’s open 24 hours … everybody is going to be checked for outstanding warrants,” Stone said.
Law enforcement agencies will present their findings from the trial period to the Metro Council after it ends.
“I firmly believe this will show why we need a misdemeanor jail year-round,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said.
Walker said the council must “step up” to provide funding for a year-round misdemeanor jail.
“The council needs to take a strong look and make this a priority,” Walker said.
Brown said the trial period will show the importance of a misdemeanor facility.
“A city this size, you cannot afford to just shut down at night,” Brown said.