Misdemeanor offenders in East Baton Rouge Parish could soon find themselves behind bars.
Starting Friday, the Baton Rouge City Jail will conduct a trial period of 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation to house people accused of certain misdemeanor offenses, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said at a Wednesday news conference.
People with outstanding misdemeanor warrants as well as those arrested for new offenses could be jailed for up to 36 hours, Gautreaux said.
“A lot of people who are issued misdemeanor summonses feel like they don’t have to answer to the system,” the sheriff said. “That changes today.”
Gautreaux made his statements a week after Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White announced the same initiative at a news conference held by Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Office about the city’s plans to have a police academy.
Wednesday’s news conference at the Sheriff’s Office provided more information about the new hours at City Jail and was attended by law enforcement from across the parish. State Police Col. Mike Edmonson and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III also were present.
Gautreaux said he, Moore and Constable Reginald Brown, whose office runs City Jail, started talking about extending the facility’s hours about a year ago.
Currently, the jail operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is used to hold arrestees and people awaiting court, the sheriff said. On average, about 20 people a day are held at the facility.
The jail, on the basement floor of the old courthouse on St. Louis Street, can house 150 people, Gautreaux said.
Better access to the facility will relieve overcrowding at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and congestion in City Court created by outstanding misdemeanor tickets, he said.
Currently, 166,236 misdemeanor warrants are outstanding in East Baton Rouge Parish, Gautreaux said. Several people are responsible for 20 to 30 warrants each, he said.
“We hope that those with outstanding warrants will take this opportunity to handle their business,” the sheriff said. “If not, we’ll handle it for them.”
Moore said extending the jail’s hours “is an important step toward increasing citizen compliance with our criminal court processes.”
With that compliance, he said, “the entire criminal justice system will be freed to focus more effectively on the truly violent criminals plaguing our community.”
Constable Brown, who could not attend Wednesday’s news conference because he was out of town, said in a news release that providing better access to the jail is “an excellent step in the right direction to reduce crime in our community, and it is a great way to combine and maximize our resources.”
The offices of the constable and the sheriff will dedicate staff to the operation of the jail during the trial period, which will continue until overtime funds run out, Gautreaux said.
During that period, all misdemeanor offenders — with the exception of violent offenders, DWI offenders, those with special medical needs and those with criminal district bench warrants — will be booked into city jail, he said.
The inmates will be fingerprinted and held until they post bond or have been at the jail for 36 hours, the sheriff said. After 36 hours, offenders will be taken to Parish Prison.
Chief Deputy Larry Navarre with the Constable’s Office said Brown plans to ask the Metro Council for additional funds to keep the jail open on a 24-hour basis year round. Navarre said the constable will make his request in “the near future.”
The City Jail was open 24 hours a day before the Constable’s Office took over the operation of the facility in 1995, Brown has said. The facility was then closed at 11 p.m. and then at 5 p.m. in 2001, he said.
“It was too costly,” Brown has said. “There were no funds to support it.”
Moore said it would cost about $1 million a year to make the facility a 24-hour, year-round operation.