Among the things that have happened since Landon Davis got arrested and charged with simple robbery last summer: His fiance gave birth to their baby daughter — and a global pandemic arrived in Louisiana, upending normal life for state residents as the death toll continues to rise.
Davis couldn't afford his $5,000 bond, so he spent the past several months sitting in jail while his case trickled slowly through the local court system.
But on Friday afternoon, he joined 19 other defendants who regained their freedom after advocates organized a bailout. It was part of a larger nationwide push to reduce the number of people incarcerated before the coronavirus arrives inside American jails and prisons, where close quarters and underlying medical conditions threaten to exacerbate the impacts.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said earlier this month that it's just a matter of time before the virus surfaces inside the parish jail, though no confirmed cases have been announced.
Davis was headed home to meet his daughter for the first time — but not before he took a shower and changed clothes, just in case. His fiance said she would make sure of that.
"I'm not playing. I have 13 bottles of bleach, 14 Lysols and plenty of hand sanitizer," she said with a laugh, sitting in the hot afternoon sun outside the jail entrance waiting for Davis to come out. "I don't want no sick babies in my house."
But when Davis finally walked through the gates, she pulled him in for a kiss.
The YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge spearheaded the recent effort using funds donated from the national Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization to post bonds. All the defendants released through the program were being held pretrial on minor alleged offenses such as theft and drug possession. Their bail amounts ranged from around $500 to $5000.
"The novel coronavirus requires a novel response. We can't maintain the status quo and expect this pandemic to work itself out," said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. "Every day we keep someone needlessly incarcerated during this crisis is a matter of life and death and we can't delay action any longer."
The YWCA, which runs a community bail fund, worked with local prosecutors and public defenders to determine which defendants would benefit most from the program. More than 100 more inmates were released last week after judges waived their bail amounts in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Baton Rouge's jail population has reached its lowest point this decade as officials across the local criminal justice system work to minimize …
Those collective efforts have resulted in the jail's pretrial population falling to its lowest level this decade. Some advocates say the changes bode well for the future of the criminal justice system, which often ensnares people too poor to afford bail even if they're accused of minor and nonviolent crimes.
"I think this creates some hope for the future," said Lacie Dauzat, a public defender who focuses on pretrial detention. "To have everyone coming to the table and working together … it's amazing to see."
Davis' fiance, Michelle Johnson, said his arrest last year left her caring for five young children on her own with another baby on the way. She just couldn't afford his bond, though she'd been calling his public defender regularly to stay informed about the case in hopes it would be resolved soon.
"We are so grateful to have him coming home," Johnson said, offering repeated "thank yous" to Dianna Payton, CEO of the YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge, and anyone else who would listen.
The two met in Baton Rouge a few years ago, but moved to Texas not long after. Johnson started a job at a nursing home and Davis was working on the railroad. Then her mom's health started declining, so they moved back to Baton Rouge — and he picked up the simple robbery charge about a month later. He's accused of robbing the cash register of a Dollar General along with a codefendant, who police said pepper sprayed the store clerk.
Johnson has been working long overnight shifts recently. She came straight to the jail after getting off work Friday morning, then waited for hours before Davis was released.
Her plan for the afternoon was to cook all his favorite dishes: pork chops, mac and cheese, fried chicken and maybe even apple pie.
Davis said his plan was to stay out of trouble.
Close quarters, preexisting health conditions and limited access to soap and hand sanitizer make Louisiana's prisons and jails potential breed…